Is It the Economy…? Or Partisanship? Or Something Else?

The Clinton Presidential Campaign of 1992 [yes, that one] was highlighted by various iterations and permutations of the phrase, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” And from then until sometime during the Obama Presidency, the popularity of the President in office seemed to be linked to the state of the economy.

Last week The Economist published a story that purported to show that “the true state of the economy is nearly irrelevant to voters.” After reading the piece, I came away with a different interpretation of the polling numbers. The Economist poll showed that Republicans were “four times as optimistic as Democrats about the state of the stock market” while “Liberals complained about high housing costs and low wage growth.”

Duh… might this “shift” just have something to do with who has what assets and what sources of income and who lives where? Although wages are rising faster now than during the last years of the Obama administration, real inflation-adjusted wages for people who are mid-middle-class and lower on the income scale are lower than they were a generation ago and housing costs are far higher. And most people in that income category live in urban metropolitan areas and also face higher housing costs, while housing costs in rural areas are far more affordable. Likewise, the cost of post-secondary education is crippling for students coming out of any income group but the upper class or upper middle class.

Under these conditions, certain aspects of the economy matter more to these people, not because of their political orientation but because of their socio-economic position. And as Republicans continue to ignore these economic problems, these individuals are more likely to vote Democratic, but their partisanship is driven by economic factors, rather than their partisanship driving their view of economics.

In addition, the stock-market means absolutely nothing to such voters. While some may have pensions or retirement programs invested in the market, on a day-to-day basis, the stock market isn’t a perceptual factor to them because very few of them have discretionary cash assets to invest.

As is often the case, the poll numbers may indeed be accurate, but what they mean isn’t necessarily what they used to mean – or what even renowned sources postulate.

Demotic or Not?

Originally, and still to linguists and historians, the word “demotic” referred to the day-to-day, or common, script used by ancient Egyptians for business transactions, records, and, most likely, what might have passed for correspondence. Hieroglyphics were usually reserved for the sacred and monumental uses, and employed by the priesthood.

In more recent times, authors have been classified as to whether their writing is “demotic” or “literary,” although sometimes instead of “literary,” the term “hieratic” (meaning priestly writing) is used. In other words, does a writer put down words like the common folk speak them, or is he or she highfalutin and esoteric in word choice and sentence structure?

What brought all this terminology to mind is that recently I ran across a commentary that, if I read and understood it correctly, seemed to suggest that Robert A. Heinlein had begun as a demotic writer and moved more to a “literary” style in his later works. The same commentary suggested that while demotic writers tend to be more popular in their lifetimes, the work of writers with a more literary style outlasts the demotic stylists, with the notable exception being Mark Twain.

To me, all this misses several points. Is the way the author writes true to the author? And does it matter so far as the reader is concerned? And could it be, perhaps, that “literary” prose outlasts demotic prose because the beauty of the words and the presentation of the ideas and/or story outlast a style that becomes dated as society changes, linguistically, socially, and technologically?

In truth, I have no idea if any of those hypotheses are correct. All I know is that, for the most part, I write in the manner in which I speak – except the sentences I put in the books are much, much shorter, because, as my family knows, I can speak sentences that are far too long.

What’s the Hurry?

All across the United States, especially in cities and suburbs, and in business, everyone’s in a hurry. The mad rush is everywhere. Seemingly everything has to be done faster.

Amazon Prime is “encouraging” employees to become private contractors so it can cut delivery times to one day.

The local university is adopting a trimester program and cutting semester lengths from 15 weeks to 13 weeks so that students can graduate in three years instead of four, despite the fact that there are already more college graduates than there are jobs that require a college education and that the speeded up education will cost just as much and will have less content. Yet for all this hurry, fewer and fewer students are emotionally ready for college, let alone the workforce or a professional career.

Parents are in such a rush that they register children for select preschools as soon as they’re born, and some even game the college admission system. The kiddy-porn-clothes industry is doing its best to accelerate sexual awareness in pre-teens.

Highway speed limits keep climbing, and despite speed limits of 80 mph on the interstate here, if you travel at 80, eighty percent of the other travelers will pass you, including more than a few semis. I see mothers in minivans doing 40 mph in 25 mph residential areas, and more than half of them are on cell phones at the same time.

Television shows are electronically compressed so that things happen faster, and Amazon Prime and Netflix release new series all at once so that viewers and speed-binge-watch them faster and faster. Video games move faster and faster. Basketball has shot clocks to keep the action moving fast.

Bosses and superiors get impatient if emails or texts aren’t answered in minutes.

Politicians are hurrying to start their next campaigns earlier and earlier, while fewer and fewer of government problems are getting addressed. The members of Congress were sworn in less than six months ago, and re-election campaigns are already in full swing. That’s clear from the solicitations I’ve already gotten. And certainly all the hurrying by politicians to start the next new campaign hasn’t done much for getting the old problems fixed.

But what’s the point of all this speed? When children are forced into growing up earlier, is that good for them? When they’re hurried from planned activity to planned activity, with little free play time, is that in their best interest? And is fast-tracking them into colleges and insisting that colleges give them high-level vocational training, and little else, to speed them into the work force in anyone’s interest, except that of business?

When employees keep having to hurry to answer electronic status requests, does that help them get their real work done well and on time? Or is that why U.S. work hours keep getting longer and longer?

And, as for taking any time to stop and smell the roses, since no one has the time to cultivate roses, the only roses most people ever see are South American hothouse roses with no scent at all.


Once, many long years ago, I was the legislative assistant for a U.S. Congressman. Like many young and idealistic professionals, I wanted to make the United States a better place [and I still do]. I implemented an early form of a computerized constituent response system so that my boss could get his ideas for reform and improvement across. I came up with plans for tax reform and quite a few others. A few of those my boss introduced, partly to humor me, I suspect, and partly because they were actually good ideas, but none of them ever even got a hearing. I also came up with a way to allow the U.S. Postal Service to run at a profit without continually jacking up first class letter rates [the general approach would still work today].

None of these proposals went anywhere, although they were certainly technically and practically feasible and could have been implemented. I won’t even come close to claiming I was a voice in the wilderness. There have always been idealists trying to make things better, and there still are.

But what my congressman told me, patiently at first, and then not so patiently, was that it didn’t matter how good something was, or how it would improve things, or how technical and practically feasible it was, if there wasn’t political support for the proposition. My proposals for improving the Postal Service were a perfect example. To this day, the USPS regards mass mailings as a marginal cost, even though the bulk of what’s carried are mass mailings and parcels. This means that the first class mail revenues have to support the bulk of core USPS costs. I’d simply proposed that mass mailers be charged the actual full cost of providing that service.

Needless to say, as the mass of junk mail even today continues to proliferate, that proposal was a total anathema to the highly subsidized mail industry – which is why at my house we recycle some 20-30 pounds of unwanted and unread catalogues every week, each sent for as little as twenty-one cents per pound. So, as a result, first class letter writers – and occasionally federal payments when the USPS runs a deficit – are subsidizing commercial for-profit advertising mailers, because it’s never been politically possible to enact what would seem like practical improvements.

There are many possible reforms, whether they’re in healthcare, taxes, or postal rates, which are technically and economically practical – but, without political support at all levels from the grassroots through the entire political structure, they’re effectively impractical.

To claim that the U.S. or any other country should be able to enact “practical” measures put in place elsewhere ignores the fact that any reform proposal is impractical unless political support either exists and can be mobilized or unless such political support can be developed.

And right now, in the United States, there’s just not enough political support in elected government itself for the reforms various Democrats are proposing, and very few of them are working to develop grassroots support. On the other hand, conservative Republicans have spent almost a generation developing an evangelical/conservative grassroots political network… and that effort is bearing its bitter fruit today… and this will continue until Democrats or others build broad-based political support willing not only to talk about but to work to get out votes and voters for their ideas.

Idealism/Principles as Policy

Every thinking person should have ideals, but ideals need to be tempered with practicality.

There’s a saying that’s been attributed variously to George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Disraeli, Otto von Bismarck, Winston Churchill, and others that goes like this: If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain. According to research by a number of individuals, the original version of this was first uttered by French historian and statesman François Guizot when he observed, “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.”

I’d put it another way. To trumpet high-sounding ideas without any practical, workable, and politically acceptable plan for implementing them is well-intentioned idiocy, but, equally, to turn one’s back on want, discrimination, and the abuse of privilege on the grounds that attempting to remedy or ameliorate those ills is impractical is not only arrogant and uncaring, but stupid, and, in the long run, often fatal to a society that ignores those needs.

And, frankly, that’s the political divide I’ve seen emerge out of the unrest in the United States today. I look at all the rhetoric on the Democratic side, addressing valid concerns and real ills… with almost no practicality in sight. You cannot raise the money to deal with those problems by merely increasing tax rates on the wealthy; under the current structure, they’re already avoiding taxes. What’s needed is a tax structure that cannot be avoided, that is seen as fair, and that is not confiscatory. I could make the same sort of case about most Democratic proposals. Of course, that’s why almost all of them talk in glittering generalities.

On the Republican side, almost all the rhetoric is about principles…or fear… principles that aren’t working well for most Americans, except for the well-off and well-educated, and fear of change, fear of anyone who is different, and fear that people won’t live as well as their parents did.

There’s another old saying, about death and taxes, but that’s not quite right. The only two things that are certain in life are that things do change… and that, sooner or later, everyone dies. We try to prolong life, but death remains. And if we don’t adapt to change, things will get worse… and we’ll die sooner.

Neither impractical ideals nor unyielding rejection of change serves anyone well, but that’s the shape of the current political divide.