Two political dangers have emerged in recent months for Democrats, Republicans, and the media that covers both. Those are the dismissal of protests by all three, and the crude overuse of the race card.
It’s disturbing that Washington really doesn’t "get" the rest of the country that is beyond their bubble, says Villanova University political scientist Lara Brown.
Last Saturday’s "Tea Party" protest, spreading out across Capitol Hill, received little to no coverage; most news organizations wildly underreported the crowd’s size.
Later, former president Jimmy Carter said racism is behind the rhetoric of President Obama’s critics; New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd opined similarly.
Here is the problem with that: Pull out the race card, and the conversation ends. It does the president no good when anyone who disagrees with him is accused of racism; it simply builds a resentment that he did not foster.
Besides, most protests of and disagreements over policy have nothing to do with race – and to say that only dilutes real racism.
"When it comes to race, it is unfortunate that the Democrats are seeing everything through this analytical lens," Brown said. "It undermines those instances in which racism and discrimination are truly important factors and are harming minorities."
Bill Kalin of Portage, Ind., president of Union Local 6103, attended last week’s AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh. He dismissed as ridiculous most of the media depictions of Tea Party protesters. "No one should make fun of people that demonstrate, or call them names," he said.
Since Democrats took power, the country has moved quickly from one pole to another in its opinions of the president and his party.
A similar phenomenon occurred following George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election by a decisive majority; by October 2005, his approval ratings had fallen substantially.
"Obama has and is suffering a similar political trajectory to Bush in 2005," Villanova’s Brown said.
Obama and fellow Democrats in Congress read way too much into their victories in 2006 and 2008. They believed that a majority of the country was voting for them, instead of voting against Bush and the Republicans.
A huge emotional attachment is lost when you vote against, rather than for, someone.
The Dems came out swinging in January, with massive legislative reforms and policy demands that had been blocked in the previous eight years.
They passed some of those without noticing that, since February, the tide has slowly been turning against them, starting with widespread unhappiness with the stimulus package. When the public saw how the stimulus was crafted and passed, and air began leaking from the Obama balloon.
Much of that deflation involves independent voters who thought Obama would at least try to live up to his promises of a different kind of Washington (less partisanship, more dialogue, less corruption and special-interest influence).
"It is no surprise to me how quickly the public, especially disaffected Dems and independents, have turned," Brown said. "They learned from Bush and the Republicans that if you give politicians the benefit of the doubt, they will take advantage of that good will."
Main Street keeps trying to send a message to the political class with their presidential votes, and the political class keeps reading these votes as affirmations rather than negations.
People voted against Democrats in 2004 and against Republicans in 2008 – not for the other party.
Politicians’ inability to read those votes correctly may be symptomatic of our narcissistic age, in which everyone thinks everything is about them but no one is accountable for anything, according to Brown.
The Tea Party phenomenon has moved Americans to mobilize and protest as never before, which makes you wonder why the media and elected officials downplay it so much.
As for racism, the majority of the electorate is white, and a majority of it voted for Obama – and people are now demonstrating because they think our country is going off a cliff, not because our president is black.
As one Democrat strategist said: "I remember seeing a bumper sticker when I was in college in the ’60s that said, ‘The majority is not silent – the government is deaf.’ Well, that could not be more true today."
No wonder Thomas Jefferson once said he was all for revolutions every so often.