Editorial: Two questions for 2012
Are Republicans in Congress tone deaf? And are Democrats so spineless they can’t vote for what they know is right?
Consider findings in a New York Times/CBS News Poll taken last week.
• 82 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, the most since The Times started asking the question in 1977.
• Nearly 80 percent said the debt ceiling debate, engineered by Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, was “more about gaining political advantage than about doing what is best for the country.”
• The public blamed the Republicans more than Democrats for the mess: 72 percent disapproved of the way Republicans handled the issue (saying they compromised too little), compared to 66 percent blaming the Democrats (many criticizing them for compromising too much.) The public split on President Obama’s handling of the issue: 47 percent disapproving, while 46 percent approved of the way he handled the issue.
• The Tea Party took it on the chin, and is now viewed unfavorably by 40 percent of those polled, and favorably by just 20 percent (the rest has no opinion). In mid-April, only 29 percent thought unfavorably of the Tea Party. And 43 percent think the Tea Party has too much influence over the G.O.P., up from 27 percent four months ago.
• Most importantly, by a ratio of more than two to one, Americans now say that the nation’s focus should be on job growth, not deficit reduction. And 63 percent supported raising taxes on household incomes of more than $250,000 annually, as President Obama and Democrats have sought to do, but which Congressional Republicans have ardently opposed. Of those polled, 80 percent of self-identified Democrats support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000, 61 percent of independents support the measure, and even 52 percent of Republicans also agree. Still, no taxes were included as a way to help lower the nation’s deficit.
• In the popularity contest, President Obama’s ratings have held steady at 48 percent approval with 47 percent disapproving, while Boehner’s popularity has plummeted 16 points: 57 percent now disapprove of the way Boehner, an Ohio Republican who leads the House majority, does his job compared to only 30 percent who approve. And Americans trust Obama and the Democrats to make the right decisions about the economy more than Republicans in Congress by 47 percent to 33 percent.
Beyond the numbers, Americans also seem to grasp the big picture, rightly perceiving that solving the debt-ceiling crisis was never the most important issue. “Cutting spending is important, but getting people back to work is more important,” said Diane Sherrell, 56, a Republican from Erwin, N.C. “If people are working, they are more productive. There is less crime, there is less depression, there is less divorce. There are less hospital and medical bills. If you put people back to work, you are cutting spending.”
But if this poll is accurate, why has this Republican House allowed itself to be hijacked by conservatives who are willing to jeopardize the nation’s economy for their own ideological bent, and why have Democrats and moderate Republicans not stood up to that challenge?
There is ample evidence suggesting that the real problem with the economy is that the recession of 2008-09 was much worse than previously thought, and that the Obama administration’s stimulus was too small, not too large, as Pulitzer-prize winning economist Paul Krugman, a columnist for the Times, has long advocated. Krugman notes that the ratio of employment to population stood at 63 percent in June 2007; dropped to 59.4 percent as of the declared end of the recession in June 2009, and was at 58.2 percent in June 2011, two years after the alleged economic recovery — a sign that, even though the economy did stop it’s staggering slide at the end of Bush’s term, the “recovery” was never really underway.
To correct the economy now, Krugman suggests, President Obama needs to come up with “real job-creation proposals,” and if Republicans continue to block those proposals, he says, Obama “needs to make a Harry Truman-style campaign against the do-nothing G.O.P.”
But are Republicans too tone deaf to hear the outcry of discontent from the public, and will Democrats remain too timid to counter the conservative right? The 2012 election will tell.