Saturday, January 21, 2012

In which I extract some hope from the news of the day

I may be following wandering fires, but I thought I picked up a couple of glimmers of hope regarding electoral trends in today's Times.

First up is a factoid accompanying Charles Blow's column. Blow's focus is on GOP voters' attitudes toward media and race. But what caught my eye in the sidebar was the percentage of the electorate as a whole who find the president trustworthy: 61%. That's far ahead of Obama's job approval rating, which is I think* 46-47% . In an era of all-time-low trust in government, 61% seems stratospheric.  If Americans even value trust in elected officials any more, it's got to help him  -- especially as Gingrich and Romney (and their hands-off Super Pac minions) do their vicious uninhibited best to highlight one another's documented lack of integrity and throw in a few gratuitous smears to boot.

The high percentage of Americans who trust Obama is comparable to the percentage who believe he negotiates with the Republicans in good faith -- approximately twice as many as those who believe the reverse. His low approval numbers are mainly an inevitable effect of the anemic economic recovery, perhaps augmented by a perception of ineffectuality that got a boost when he acceded to a no-new-revenues deficit reduction package on August 1. The public supports his "balanced" approach to deficit reduction, the measures in his jobs package, and his proposed means of paying for them, but probably blames him for not be able to get them enacted, as Steve Benen reminds us at regular intervals. Being viewed as a trustworthy conciliator, he therefore has plenty of running room to stage confrontations with Republicans in Congress and issue executive orders advancing progressive policies, as in the payroll tax cut fight, the recess appointment of Richard Cordray, and the order that health insurance plans cover birth control. If he can shore up his image as a tough, successful fighter (see: foreign policy), he will have a character troika: honest, reasonable, tough.  And I doubt anyone but bigots (and perhaps a few far-right ideologues) doubts his intelligence.

Second factoid to mull over (ex post...): a dramatic drop in Wall Street pay. In a Times article about Morgan Stanley's cap on cash bonuses, a former "top trader" has this to say about beleaguered colleagues (my emphasis):
Even for those making seven figures or more, the cuts "are a blow," Mr. Driscoll said. "The effect is psychological. To a large extent, Wall Street keeps score by what you're paid. If you're making $750,000 or $1 million, you're doing O.K. by any reasonable standard. A lot of people make that kind of money. But it affects people's psyches. It's a hard thing for the other 99 percent to grasp, but for better or worse, that's how they measure their value and self-worth: what their paycheck is. I'm not trying to defend that, but that's how it is. Now they're being paid less and less. They're being pilloried in the press and by the 99 percent. Even Republican candidates are attacking you. People in the industry are being treated like pariahs."
This stirs some hope that the opportunistic and demagogic attacks by Gingrich and Perry on Romney's Bain career have blurred the battle lines. It's Gingrich who, while denigrating OWS protesters with one side of his mouth, adopted their language vis-a-vis successful private equity with the other.  With awareness of the 99/1 gap heightened, the Republican nominee will have to at least gesture toward concern with income inequality, or, cum Romney at present, double down on out-of-touch denial and unqualified defense of a system that has sent the vast bulk of increases in wealth over the past thirty years to those at the very top. Either Gingrich-style popular pandering or Romneyesque advocacy for the one percent could stoke further dissatisfaction with widening inequality.

On the other side of the ledger, Obama is getting some deserved credit for dramatically improved U.S. export numbers, which are actually on track at the moment to meet Obama's goal of doubling exports by 2015.  Could an improving economy and an extended GOP food fight lead some Wall Street tycoons and other business interests to conclude that they're better off with Obama's not-so-tough love than with GOP shills whose proposed tax giveaways and draconian cuts in social spending may ultimately push popular wrath to a tipping point?

Thus, if I may exhort the surviving GOP candidates in the voice of the dread commander Dark Helmet in Mel Brooks's Spaceballs: keep firing, assholes!

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