We’re less than a month away from the election — the latest in a string of elections that liberals and conservatives alike want us to treat as the most important election in modern history! — and I wonder how well our political classes even understand the average voter.
A story in yesterday’s New York Times about how an increasingly unpopular President Obama has been “benched” by his party capsulized the issue for me. The article says that the President hopes, once again, to “pivot” to the economy and give a series of speeches about jobs initiatives and a “clean energy economy,” but his advisers are frustrated because the American people are worried, instead, about a possible Ebola outbreak and the terrorist threat posed by ISIS. One of the operatives said: “When people are jumping a fence at the White House and Ebola is in Dallas it’s hard to get a message through.”
And therein lies the problem. The political types dream of rolling out more wishful policy proposals in grand speeches; they treat real-world problems like Ebola, ISIS, and porous borders as irritants that serve only to distract from the more crucial policymaking process. The American people, on the other hand, see Ebola, ISIS, and White House security as precisely what the federal government should focus on as its most important priorities.
Epidemics and terrorism are beyond the control of the Average American; they are the big, scary problems that only the government is equipped to handle. When the big problems arise, we want to hear from clipped, hyper-competent people who have developed careful plans to tackle the problem — not expessions of regret that the deadly plague and the beheadings are preventing politicians from talking about the latest solar energy initiative.
The Times article plays into an important undercurrent in our society. We know that the governmental types are eager to tell us what to eat, drink, and think. They want us to accept their assurances that Ebola will never make it to our shores, and then when a man infected with Ebola somehow arrives in Dallas they expect us to believe new assurances that things are nevertheless under control. Not surprisingly, such statements are greeted with increasing skepticism — and when articles indicate that the President and the politicos are straining at the leash to put Ebola and ISIS behind them and move on to debate about a “clean energy economy,” the skepticism grows, and grows, and grows. In that context, why should we view statements that Ebola or ISIS are under control as anything other than a convenient effort to sweep the big, scary, problems under the rug so the policymaking games can be played?
It’s not unreasonable for us to want or demand a federal government that understands that the big, scary problems are its most important job, not some mere distraction. How many voters will enter the voting booths next month with that thought in mind?