Monday, July 16 , 2018, 1:36 pm | Fair 72º


Mark Shields: We’ve Seen This Movie Before

As in 2006 and 2008, the U.S. electorate remains pessimistic and increasingly angry

Whether it’s chronic self-delusion or simply garden-variety human conceit, we seem capable of convincing ourselves that these times — “our times” — are unique in human history. Sorry, but the current 2010 political campaign and the attitudes of the voters are both a spitting image and a carbon copy — when was the last time you saw a carbon copy? — of the 2006 and 2008 political years.

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

There is one survey question that qualifies as the EKG test of the American body politic: “Do you think things in the nation are headed in the right direction, or do you feel that things are seriously off on the wrong track?” Back at the turn of the century, it was not uncommon to find a slight majority of Americans responding things were indeed “headed in the right direction.” But by 2006, nearly three out of five answered “off on the wrong track” — and, in 2008, three out of four said the same.

After a fleeting up-tick of optimism after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, pessimism has returned. Today, 30 percent of voters, in the most recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, saw things “headed in the right direction,” while 61 percent believe they’re “off on the wrong track.”

In the three election years — 2006, 2008 and 2010 — the president’s job rating has been respectively 33 percent approval, 25 percent approval and currently 45 percent approval, while the voters’ ratings of Congress have been 16 percent approval (2006), 12 percent approval (2008) and 21 percent approval (2008). As recently as 2005, more voters approved than disapproved of the job Congress was doing.

What you, my ever-observant reader, may by now be pointing out is that in 2006, the Republicans controlled both the House of Representatives and the Senate and President George W. Bush was in the White House (as he still was in 2008). But in both 2008 and now in 2010, Democrats held majorities in both houses of Congress, and since 2008 Obama has been president.

This is all true. But the attitudes of the voters remain essentially the same in 2010 as they were four years ago. The U.S. electorate remains pessimistic and disappointed, and has grown increasingly angry.

In the first two elections, the voters expressed those feelings by voting out of office those who were in office. In 2006 and 2008, the “In’s” who felt the voters’ wrath were Republicans. All available evidence, some seven weeks before Election Day 2010, indicates that the part played by the Republicans in 2006 and 2008 will, on Nov. 2, be filled by the Democrats.

It is true, as Democratic strategist Jeffrey Horwitt points out, that “this election is not as much about Barack Obama as 2006 was about George W. Bush.” Obama is today significantly more popular both personally and politically than Bush was four years ago. But it’s also accurate that voters are now even more lacking in trust toward Washington and more hostile toward a power structure they are convinced pays little attention to them.

In the United States, historically the most optimistic of nations, only 27 percent of Americans “feel confident that life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us,” while 66 percent are “not confident” that will be the case and two out of three voters “think America is in a state of decline.”

In 2008, the majority voted for “change we can believe in,” and two years later, regardless of whom you blame, Washington has most definitely not changed for the better — which makes the election year of 2010, sadly, an awful lot like both 2006 and 2008. Yes, we have seen this movie before.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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