In the Arena

Election Road Trip, Day 21: Washington Seems a Crazy Place

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Fresno, California

Traveling Companions: none

Events: watching the news from Washington from a citizen’s-eye view.

Three weeks on the road, weaned from my usual total immersion in newspapers and blogs and cable news, and I’m gleaning the latest from  our Nation’s Capital as most citizens do, by osmosis–a news flash on the radio (or, more often, a morning jock joke), a newspaper headline, an occasional 15 minutes of CNN at night, on my way to more soothing precincts like ESPN. This may have been the most valuable aspect of the trip so far. And it is difficult to escape this conclusion: it’s not hard to understand why most citizen see Washington as hapless and ridiculous.

During the past week, for example, the most significant thing to happen in our nation’s capital–if the morning radio jocks are any guide–was Stephen Colbert’s appearance before a House Subcommittee. I love Stephen Colbert. The guy is a genius. His message was very important: that no sane human being with any other options would want to be a migrant farmworker. But please: to make this testimony in his faux O’Reilly character? Who was the genius who came up with that one?

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer agrees with Joe. “I think his testimony was not appropriate. I think it was an embarrassment for Mr. Colbert more than the House,” Hoyer said on Fox News Sunday. “What he had to say was not the way it should have been said.” You can read TIME’s coverage, from yours truly, for good or ill, here. - Katy Steinmetz

And then, on a more serious note, there is Harry Reid’s decision to put off a vote on extending the Bush tax cuts until after the elections. Pure genius, that one. What Reid apparently doesn’t understand is that most people in this country assume that politicians are just drooling over the opportunity to raise their taxes–and the news that the vote won’t come until after the election is a clear signal that the Congress is intending to do just that.

A recent Rasmussen poll showed that 59% of likely voters believe that Congressional Democrats want to raise taxes. (Only 17% disagree.) Just 25% believe the Republicans want to raise taxes. And while the economy is ranked the most important issue by voters, 56% believe tax increases will hurt the economy. Bad recipe for Dems.   

So, in effect, what Reid has just done is confirm the Republican scenario of a tax-happy Democratic Congress that needs to be replaced. No doubt, the grand Democratic strategists are looking at polls that say the American public is with them on raising taxes for the wealthy back to the Clinton levels of the 1990s–but I’d guess that if you asked people if they’d rather raise taxes on the wealthy or be guaranteed right now that their own taxes won’t go up in January, they’d pick the latter. (I should add that most people see the increased health insurance premiums and co-pays they’re being slammed with this year as a direct consequence of the Obama reform bill.)

Another Rasmussen poll, out just a few days ago, shows that 61% of likely voters at least “somewhat” support repeal of the health care law; the same majority believes it will increase the federal deficit and make their own health care costs go up. 

The polls say that Democratic policies are still, marginally, more popular than Republican ideas–but they also say that the public is going to vote Republican in November. As I travel about, I’ve begun to realize the reason for that: people don’t believe that Democrats have any discipline at all. Yesterday, in Nevada, I was talking with GOP Congressional candidate Joe Heck, who is an emergency room doctor with vast experience as a combat surgeon in Iraq. He’s not a crazy when it comes to the health care reform act. He wants to retain many of its provisions. But he points out assorted sillinesses that were stuffed into the 2,000-page draft: a provision, for example, that small businesses must have a separate room designated for nursing mothers to use their breast pumps.

Under section 4207 of Subtitle C, employers are instructed to provide “a reasonable break time” for a nursing mother, as well as “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk. 

Or the $75 million devoted to teenage responsibility education. This is the nanny state gone berserk. These are the sort of provisions that Republicans use to create the smokescreen of uncertainty that enshrouds major, largely worthy pieces of legislation like health care reform. These are also the sort of provisions that can be mocked and highlighted by Rush and Beck etc.

I believe that activist government is a necessity in this complicated global era. I believe there needs to be a coherent national response to the Chinese challenge that Tom Friedman harps on and lays out once again today. But for activist government to be credible, it needs to be disciplined and laser-efficient. There is an overpowering sense  in the country that the Democrats are simply incapable of that discipline–that, indeed, their Congressional leaders are slovenly, semi-corrupt, out of touch and ridiculous. I find it hard to disagree with that assessment.

Update: The Swampland commenters seem not to understand the purpose of this post. It is to show the amount, and type, of news that gets through to the average, non-news junkie, American. Neither Stephen Colbert’s opening, or heartfelt closing, statements got through, for example; just the fact that a comedian testified in character. I should add that the Republican “Pledge to America” barely tickled the newsmeter this week–the fact that it contained nothing unexpected or specific or even vaguely compelling, just the same old GOP talking points, probably had something to do with that.

Readers should, by now, also understand that the block quotes above are fact-checking efforts by Katy Steinmetz. Nice job, Katy!

This post is part of my Election Road Trip 2010 project. To track my location across the country, and read all my road trip posts, click here.