In by the hair on our chinny chin chins

January 21, 2009 | By | 12 Replies More

Yes, the Bush Administration is now gone, with Bush himself finally helicoptered out.  And just look at this exquisite satellite photo of yesterday’s crowd for the swearing in!

We’d like to think that the American people have now seen the light, and that we can now rationally approach solutions to the massive problems we now face (many of them caused by the ineptitude and corruption of the Bush ministration).  But not so fast!  There is no dependable numerical mandate supporting Obama.

In order to get Barack Obama into the White House, it took a perfect storm to hit the Republicans and their followers. The forces of rationality occupy the White House only by a relative sliver in a country that is still largely antagonistic to Obama, or apathetic. That is the conclusion of Mark Slouka, who wrote February’s “Notebook” for the February edition of Harper’s Magazine.

First of all, Slouka holds up a mirror to our collective ignorance:

One out of every four of us believes we been reincarnated; 44% of us believe in ghosts; 71%, in Angels. 40% of us believe God created all things in their present form sometime during the last 10,000 years. Nearly the same number–not coincidentally, perhaps–are functionally illiterate. 20% think the sun might revolve around the earth.

Slouka then reminds us about all the things that had to happen in order to sour the American public on the Republican administration:

For starters, consider how easily things might have gone the other way had the political and economic climate not combined into a perfect political storm for the Republican Party; had the Dow then 1000 points higher in September, or gas a dollar cheaper. Truth is, we got lucky; the bullet grazed our skull.

[C]onsider the numbers. Of the approximately 130,000,000 Americans who voted this past November, very nearly half, seemingly stuck in political puberty, were untroubled by the possibility of Sarah Palin and the First Dude inheriting the White House …

The real problem, the acknowledged that underlying American democracy, is a 38% of the population who didn’t move, it didn’t vote. Think of it: a country the size of Germany-83 million people-within our own borders. Many of its citizens, after decades of watching the status quo perpetuated itself, are presumably too fed up to bother, a stance we can sympathize with and still condemn for its petulance and immaturity, its unwillingness to challenge the fact that in every election there is a better and a worse choice …

[A] significant number of our fellow citizens are now as greedy and gullible as a box full of puppies; they’ll believe anything; they’ll attack the empty glove; they’ll follow that plastic bone right off the cliff. Nothing about this election has changed that fact.

I would add that Obama probably wouldn’t have won had McCain chosen anyone reasonably competent as his running mate, someone other than Sarah Palin.  Based on my conversations with several conservatives and moderates who ended up voting for Obama, I suspect that that McCain’s selection of Palin, more than anything else, allowed Obama to prevail.  It was a pure gift from McCain.   It was so bizarre that one is tempted to put on one’s Psychologist Hat and attempt to find an attempt to lose residing in McCain.

Slouka’s fine article is apparently not available online to nonsubscribers, but this hurdle should serve as a good reminder that one can subscribe to Harper’s Magazine and have access to lots of insightful writing like Slouka’s.  I do.


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Category: American Culture, ignorance, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (12)

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  1. No one I know in the bland, conservative suburb of Philadelphia where I live voted for Obama. Most are openly hostile toward him and seem to want to see him fail. I've had to be mostly in the closet with my support of him, silently enduring the thinly disguised racist overtones of their criticisms.

    I honestly wonder sometimes how Pres O got elected!

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    There is a large contingent of people that have been taught by the media that their vote is unimportant, that they are too unimportant to be heard, that their opinions are not of value to the legislative and governing process.

    Our democracy is supposed to work by the lawmakers acknowledging the fact that their job security is dependent on their representation of the majority, that by serving the good of all the people, they serve the nation and themselves in the process.

    However, in this information age, a time when more people should have access to the lawmakers than ever before, the governing bodies at the local state and federal levels tightly controlled by lobbyists, political action committees, and industry consultants determined to gain legislation favorable to those that would profit dearly at the expense of the majority.

    They achieve this by many means, by filtering and controlling the information flow to the lawmakers in a manner that supports their objectives, by overtly and covertly financing some of their own ranks, and by controlling the media to sway the masses to their ideology.

    It should not be this way.

    Since the Clinton administration, the US government has funded through grants the installation of fiber optic data communications cables throughout the nation. This was initially part of the National Information Infrastructure legislation and was intended to create an high capacity data/voice infrastructure that would not be under the control of regional monopolies, but under the Bush administration it became something that no-one talked about. Most of this is "dark fiber" (not in use) and while the phone and cable operators push for tiered pricing of services, claiming insufficient capacity as the reason, the capacity is there, paid for with tax payer money, buried and forgotten.

    If this were used, along with internet technology that is already available, we could put the people directly in touch with the legislators. We could get better participation of the public and restore faith in the system.

    Think about it… If congressman Bob needs to know what the voters think about new legislation, his staff would set up a simple questionnaire on his web site and send out cards to his constituents with a coded key that would give them one vote. They could go to the internet, enter the code and their voter id on a secure web page, and let Congressman Bob know what they thought.

    It would revolutionize democracy as we know it.

    There are many conservatives that have professed a belief that democracy is a bad idea and that only a select few should have a say in the government. The parrot remarks like "We are a representative republic, not a mob-ocracy". Of course they assume that they will be in that elite group that gets to decide.

  3. Edgar Montrose says:

    The Founding Fathers knew about the Tyranny of the Masses, and voter apathy, and voter ignorance. That is why they created the Electoral College. So why do so many people nowadays want to abolish it in favor of the popular vote?

    If you think that American Idol is absurd, just wait until you see American President.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    Mike wrote, "I’ve had to be mostly in the closet with my support of him, silently enduring the thinly disguised racist overtones of their criticisms."

    Please don't let the mob get away with bigotry, Mike. Obama might have more support if more of his supporters in entrenched Republican communities would confront and challenge the stereotypes, and openly support his objectives.

  5. Thanks grumpy, I agree! But the "mob" in this case turns out to be both my manager who is my 2nd cousin and the president of my company who also happens to be my uncle!! It makes for a difficult situation! I do the best that I can, but we are talking about the generation preceding mine, so you can imagine the crusty old stereotypes and bigotry. Think Archie Bunker.

  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Edgar, The Electoral College was actually formed as a means of tabulating the votes in the days before the US had a postal service and the fastest form of communication was by private courier on horseback . Now with computers, data mining, and GIS software gerrymandering has become a fine art and allows which ever party is in power at the right time to redraw the district boundaries in a manner that demographically favors the party in power. In a close race, the loser of the popular vote can win the electoral votes by a wide margin.

    American Idol is different from the popular vote in US elections; In idol you pay 50 cents to vote and you can vote as many times as you like. In government elections you only get 1 vote.

  7. Edgar Montrose says:

    Nicklaus; it is my understanding that the Electoral College was created because the Founding Fathers did not trust the people to elect the President directly. From the Federalist Papers;

    "It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations. It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief."


    As for the American Idol reference, it is an admittedly limited analogy. The idea that I was trying to convey was that the election would become even more of a popularity contest than it already is.

  8. Edgar,

    As well as a distrust of the plebiscite, there was the more practical matter of trying to maintain equal representation among 13 states with unequal population. All sorts of arrangements were tried out (in theory) to try to balance the fact that the most populous states would, in direct plebiscite, overwhelm less populous states. The "State" was to have equal footing with "The People." Hence the division in numbers between the two Houses. For a long time, Senators were not directly elected, but appointed by governors—the only holdover of that we now have is the gubernatorial appointment of a senator to fulfill a term interrupted.

    Distrust of the average Joe, though…seems we're still seeing that play out between "republicans" and "democrats"…

  9. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Many of the founding fathers disagreed with the Federalist philosophy because they feared it would lead to a monarchy. According to the federal election commission, the establishment of the electoral college was becasue the founder had a distrust of politicians and also recognized the problems inherent in providing a timely and accurate accounting of the vote.

  10. grumpypilgrim says:

    Good point, Mike. I can relate — I've met more than a few otherwise progressive elders who have had strong racial or ethnic prejudices. As you say, we have to pick our battles.

  11. grumpypilgrim says:

    Further to Edgar's comments about the rabble versus the Electoral College, I would go one step farther and say that the U.S. should ditch the presidential system altogether and adopt a parliamentary system, where the head of state and the head of the government are separate offices, and where the head of the government is elected by Congress. This would, however, require also changing Congress to eliminate the _de facto_ two-party system and create, instead, a system that would support a plurality of parties. One benefit of such changes would be to shift power away from the president and into the hands of Congress…something that might have reduced the odds of a nutcase president forcing the U.S. into war. Another benefit is the availability of a "no confidence" vote, whereby Congress could more easily remove a demonstrably incompetent prime minister.

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