QJPolitics: Out of touch in America

Sometimes American politics is downright laughable. The “fiscal cliff” debate was the latest in a series of manufactured crises which serve as the landmarks for this unfolding comedy. This most recent fiasco was preceded by last summer’s debt ceiling debate, and it will be followed by yet another debt ceiling debate as the issue of spending cuts was left off the table in the “fiscal cliff” resolution.

It’s clear that American’s resent this dysfunction, but their alienation is more fundamental than a reaction to any given partisan squabble. A recent poll found that a majority of American’s think that neither party represents the American people.

A crucial and underexplored facet of this dissatisfaction is the mounting popular anger on the right wing of the American political spectrum. A whopping 63 per cent of Republican voters feel that the party has lost touch with its base.

The Republican Party faces a fascinating dilemma. Commentators like David Frum suggest that it should become more centrist and adjust to America’s changing demographics and new social realities. However, such a move would necessarily alienate the large and active part of the Republican base who is evangelical Christian.

Conservative radio commentator Michael Savage —whose show was second only to Rush Limbaugh’s in total listeners before being cancelled — has called for the formation of a third “nationalist” party which would emphasize “borders, language and culture”. The desire for the formation of a third party is echoed by other popular conservative commentators. Despite the huge attention it got, Tea Party anger was assimilated far too easily into the Republican Party and wasn’t a genuine outlet for popular displeasure on the right.

The reasons for discontent amongst the Republican rank and file are fairly obvious. Where this unhappiness could take the country and its politics is much less evident.

Real wages have been trending downward in the US for more than 40 years. The Republican base is middle class white men, a demographic that sees financial security as its birthright. This same cohort perceives Americas changing demographics as a threat.

This attitude was epitomized by Bill O’Reilly’s lamentation on the eve of Barack Obama’s re-election that America’s “white establishment” has been lost. American society has also become more liberal on social issues. For the first time ever polls show that a majority of American’s support gay marriage. In general, the evidence from polling is clear. The older and more conservative an American is the more likely he is to be disgruntled with the state of the nation.

For all its early promise, the Occupy movement has fallen out of mainstream discourse. Those who are dissatisfied on the American left –for whom Occupy was a vital rallying point- are back in the unenviable position of attempting to convince Democrat party supporters that no significant change will come through the traditional process. Perhaps these leftists are looking in the wrong place. There are great swaths of the country that are outspoken about their dissatisfaction and ready to be mobilized toward upsetting the established order.

David Hadwen is QJBlogs’ Political Columnist. He’s a fourth-year history major with a specific interest in American Politics. Follow him on Twitter @David_Hadwen.

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