Jay Reding.com

What Do Americans Want?

David Brooks offers an intriguing argument that “the happiness gap” is a major factor in political attitudes today. Brooks suggests that while Americans are generally quite happy personally, they’re deeply skeptical about the state of American institutions. Brooks thinks that what the American people want is neither liberalism’s nanny statism nor conservatism’s limited government:

These voters don’t believe government can lift their standard of living or lead a moral revival. They want a federal government that will focus on a few macro threats — terrorism, health care costs, energy, entitlement debt and immigration — and stay out of the intimate realms of life. They want a night watchman government that patrols the neighborhood without entering their homes.

This is not liberalism, which inserts itself into the crannies of life. It’s not conservatism, suspicious of federal power. It’s a gimlet-eyed federalism — strong government with sharply defined tasks.

I think that there is something to this argument. The overall tone of the electorate is generally hostile: neither party is doing particularly well. The President and Congress are in a race to the bottom in terms of approval ratings. People are rightly sick and tired of the state of American politics today.

The candidate who will win 2008 will the be candidate who can offer the most compelling solutions for dealing with America’s real problems. While that statement might seem like a no-brainer to most people, neither political party seems to really get it. The Republicans have the strong rhetoric on terrorism, but have been saddled with a war that they’ve never been able to convincingly support. The Democrats have their social issues, but their proposed solutions generally involve the progression of: 1) hike taxes, 2) ???, 3) Everyone’s Happy! If only we could tax al-Qaeda to death both parties might be happy.

Given Brook’s thesis, one gets an explanation for the seeming boom in popularity for candidates like Ron Paul. After all, he’s the candidate least likely to bother most Americans individual lives. He also happens to be a raving nutcase who thinks that bringing back the gold standard is a really great policy. What people see is someone at least talking about breaking the silly status quo of partisan bickering. (And Paul does have bipartisan appeal—he brings in the nutballs of both parties together. 9/11 “Truthers” and people who think that George Wallace was soft on Communism now can find common cause together…)

What the country needs is a pragmatic leader who is willing to stand above the din and tell both sides to stop acting like children and get back to work. The Republicans have some candidates who can credibly do that, although right now they’re too busy trying to shore up their base to make the right moves. On the Democratic side, the heir apparent is Hillary Clinton, a woman who embodies the very nastiest of American politics and has the political instincts of a 13-year-old girl. The most credible Democratic candidates—people like Joe Biden or Chris Dodd have about a snow-cone’s chance in Hell of getting the nomination. The only real challenger to Clinton is Barack Obama, a man who’s policy principles are about as indistinct as they come. It’s one thing to spout a bunch of platitudes, it’s another to actually be able to make them happen. (And as for John Edwards, I think this says it all about his credibility as the leader of the free world.)

In the end, Brooks’ argument seems to mesh with the evidence. People don’t necessarily want less government (although they should), they just want government that’s actually competent. At the same time, people don’t want more government, they generally want to be left alone. Neither party is offering what the American people really want, and it may be a while before either of them wake up to the fact that the reason why there’s such wide distrust to politicians of both stripes is because neither party is behaving in a very trustworthy manner.

8 responses to “What Do Americans Want?”

  1. Mark says:

    “What do Americans want?”

    Democrats!

    “the seeming boom in popularity for candidates like Ron Paul. After all, he’s the candidate least likely to bother most Americans individual lives. At the same time, people don’t want more government, they generally want to be left alone.”

    Every indication is that voters want government to “bother them” more, not less, whether it be protectionist trade policy or expanding government-run health care, or even in areas where I want government to stay the hell out of such as my refrigerator and bar stool.

    “On the Democratic side, the heir apparent is Hillary Clinton, a woman who embodies the very nastiest of American politics and has the political instincts of a 13-year-old girl.”

    Political instincts of a 13-year-old girl? Aren’t you the same guy who for the last 2 1/2 years have insisted that Hillary Clinton is this fierce political wunderkind making all the right moves and whom Democrats would be fools not to nominate? And surprise, surprise, now that her doomed nomination seems all but inevitable, you’re immediately telling us that 7th grade girls have better political instincts, and that Democrats are fools not to nominate Chris Dodd. My God, you’re a tool.

  2. Eracus says:

    Oh, yeah, right. Americans want more government intrusion into their private lives, more government regulation of their businesses and finances, more government control over consumer prices and employment compensation, more government control over their children’s education, more government interference with their medical care… why, everywhere people are eager for more government, more government, more government!! Marcia!! Marcia!! Marcia!! Mark, you are lost in the ozone again. EAT something.

    You are right about one thing, though. People who accept no personal responsibility for their livelihood or their family and rely instead upon government to be some sort of commune that will provide them with a job, an education, and medical care typically want more Democrats. I mean, hell, if you’re committed to communism, it’s only natural you’d want more communists in Congress…..

  3. Mark says:

    Every public opinion poll on every issue indicates voters want more government in their lives. Even a supermajority of Republican voters indicated a preference for heightened protectionism in regards to trade policy. Eracus, I recommend you spend a little more time listening to the uninsured sweating class on the floor of your Bemidji sweatshop and a little less time in your office posting deranged right-wing commentary on conservative blogs under the guise of “productivity”. Only when you turn the computer off and extract yourself from that insulated bubble that is your office cubicle can you ever hope to come in contact with the struggling masses who don’t concur with your worldview that America’s biggest problem is an overtaxed upper class.

    “People who accept no personal responsibility for their livelihood or their family and rely instead upon government to be some sort of commune that will provide them with a job, an education, and medical care typically want more Democrats.”

    Hate to break it to you, Eracus, but you described your employees….you know, the ones you’re proud to deny health insurance to.

    “I mean, hell, if you’re committed to communism, it’s only natural you’d want more communists in Congress…..”

    For someone attempting to portray themself as the smartest guy in the room, you have to realize than anyone of even marginal intelligence sees your IQ decline 20 points every time you conflate your domestic political opponents to communists.

    And lastly, in regards to your erroneous reference to “freedom-loving Southerners” rejecting smoking bans the other day, let’s see how that hypothesis holds up to the facts…..

    Arkansas–July 21, 2006 banned in almost all workplaces. Exceptions include establishments that do not allow patrons younger than 21; retail tobacco stores; long-term care facilities including nursing homes; gaming floors of operations regulated by the Arkansas Racing Commission; designated hotel smoking rooms; and workplaces with fewer than three employees.

    Florida–1 July 2003 banned in all workplaces, except private homes, tobacco shops, designated rooms at motels and hotels, and stand alone bars with no more than 10% of revenue from food sales.

    Georgia–July 1, 2005 banned in restaurants and bars that allow minors under 18 to enter, or employ minors.

    Kentucky–Ashland, October 1, 2006 Prohibits smoking in all enclosed public places and places of employment, as well as outdoor arenas, venues and outdoor patio areas of restaurants and bars….
    Daviess County, January 1, 2006 banned in any public establishment open to children under 18. Exempts private businesses and bars….
    Frankfort, July 25, 2006 banned in all businesses, including public buildings, restaurants, and bars…..
    Georgetown, October 1, 2005 banned in most public buildings. Smoking is still allowed in some hotel rooms…..
    Letcher County, took effect July 1, 2006 in all public buildings and restaurants. Exempts private clubs, private buildings. ….
    Lexington, April 27, 2004 banned in public buildings…..
    Louisville, November 15, 2005 banned in all public buildings, except bars and taverns, restaurants with profits from bar sales at least 25%, Churchill Downs, and with permission from the city. Fully banned in restaurants and bars (except at Churchill Downs) as of July 1, 2007.[12] …
    Madison County, June 12, 2007 banned in all workplaces, restaurants, and bars, including all businesses in the cities of Richmond and Berea. Exempts outdoor patio areas of restaurants and bars.
    Paducah, April 1, 2007 banned in all workplaces, bars, and restaurants. ….
    Paintsville, 2006 banned in all workplaces, but exempts bars.

    Louisiana–SB 742 signed into law, banning smoking in all workplaces, restaurants, and other indoor public venues. It exempts bars and casinos, taking effect on January 1, 2007. [12]

    Mississippi–Greenwood, August 23, 2007 banned in all workplaces, restaurants, and bars.
    Hattiesburg, January 1, 2007 banned in all indoor public places, including bars, restaurants, and city buildings.
    Oxford, banned in all indoor public places, including bars, restaurants, and city buildings. Smoking is also prohibited in certain outdoor areas.
    Ridgeland, July 20, 2007 banned in all workplaces, restaurants, and bars.
    Starkville, May 20, 2006 banned in all indoor public places, including bars, restaurants, and city buildings. Smoking is also prohibited in certain outdoor areas.
    Tupelo, October 2006 banned in all indoor public places, including restaurants and bars.[Greenville, Mississippi, banned in all indoor public places, including restaurants and bars

    South Carolina–Beaufort County, banned in all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, within unincorporated areas of Beaufort County. January 10, 2007. [23]
    Bluffton, banned in all workplaces, including restaurants and bars. January 10, 2007. [24]
    Charleston, July 2007, prohibited in all restaurants, bars, and workplaces. Cigar bars, theatrical performances involving smoking, and 25% of designated hotel and motel smoking rooms are exempt.
    Columbia, January 9, 2007, banned in all workplaces, except for bars where 85% of revenue comes from the sale of alcohol. [25]
    Greenville, January 1, 2007, banned in all workplaces, restaurants, and bars. A court ruling in early 2007 ruled Greenville’s smoking ban to be in violation of a state preemption law, and invalid. Due to the ruling, Greenville has chosen not to enforce their ban, for now. [26]
    Hilton Head Island, Indoor smoking ban in restaurants, bars, and public places will take effect May 1, 2007.[27]
    Mount Pleasant, September 1, 2007 banned in all restaurants, bars, workplaces, and private clubs.
    Sullivan’s Island, effective July 20, 2006, a ban on smoking in workplaces, including restaurants and bars. Upheld by the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas on December 20, 2006. [28]

    Tennessee–State Senate passed a billed backed by Gov. Phil Bredesen banning smoking in restaurants and most public places on May 24, 2007. The House passed the Non-Smoker Protection Act on May 31, 2007 with more exceptions than the Senate version. Notable exemptions to the bill include bars with access to persons 21 and older at all times, private clubs, businesses with three or fewer employees, and establishments with at least one completely open garage type door on one or more sides. The bill was signed on June 11, 2007, goes into effect on July 1, 2007, and will be enforced beginning on October 1, 2007.

    Texas–Abilene, January 3, 2007 voter-approved smoking ban took effect, banning smoking in all restaurants, bars, and workplaces.
    Alvin, 2002 banned in restaurants. Bars and taverns exempt.
    Arlington, January 1, 2007. Ban includes all restaurants and clubs as well as outdoor areas within 50 feet of entrance or exit of establishment.
    Austin, September 1, 2005 ban extended to all bars and clubs. Smoking is still allowed in bingo halls, fraternities, hotel rooms, and nursing homes. The ban was approved by only 52% of voters.
    Beaumont, ban takes effect August 1, 2006 in all enclosed public places, including workplaces, restaurants, and bars.
    Benbrook, effective November 1, 2006. Ban includes all public buildings and within 25 feet (7.6 m) of entrance or exit of same. For the purposes of this ordinance, ‘public building’ includes home offices, regardless of access to public, as well as storage buildings, detached garages, or any other building on residential site or other place in the city. Ban includes allowing a person to smoke.
    Boerne, effective March 27, 2007. Banned in all public places within the city limits, except bars.
    Brenham, July 20, 2007, banned in all workplaces, except bars and manufacturing facilities.
    Carrollton, banned in restaurants.
    Dallas, March 1, 2003 banned in all restaurants, bowling alleys, and city-owned facilities. Bars are exempt and hotels can offer smoking rooms. Private clubs are still subject to these regulations.
    El Paso, January 2, 2002 banned in all workplaces, bingo halls, restaurants, bars, and public areas and waiting rooms of doctor’s facilities.
    Harlingen, April 2, 2005 banned in all public places except bars, nightclubs, and at Valley Race Park, a local dog track.
    Houston, September 5, 2005 banned in restaurants, but excludes bar areas inside restaurants and bars/taverns. Ban extended to bars and restaurant bar areas in September 2007.
    Laredo, October 2006 banned in all public places, workplaces, restaurants, and bars. Was amended earlier this year to exempt establishments that prohibit minors under 21 from entering.
    Lubbock, July 22, 2004 banned in all public places, except for any smoking areas in restaurants or bars that are completely walled off from the rest of the building, and have a separate ventilation system. Bingo halls and designated hotel smoking rooms exempt.
    McAllen, October 23, 2007 banned in all places, except private clubs, tobacco shops, and bars that get 70% or greater sales from alcoholic beverages.
    New Braunfels, banned in most indoor public places, including restaurants. Private clubs and stand-alone bars exempt.
    Odessa, banned in restaurants, except for any smoking areas in restaurants that are completely walled off from the rest of the building, and have a separate ventilation system.
    Plano, banned in restaurants. Was amended earlier this year, and expanded on June 1, 2007 to cover all places, including restaurants and bars.
    Robinson, banned in all public places. Exempts bars.
    Rollingwood, banned in restaurants and bars.
    Round Rock, banned in workplaces and restaurants. Bars are exempt.
    San Antonio, 2003 previous smoking restrictions ordinance was updated and strengthened – now banned in all “public places”, including restaurants, “except for enclosed bar areas, enclosed dining areas and outdoor seating areas designated as smoking” – There are certain exclusions (many of these also require than no one younger than 18 be admitted into the smoking areas): billiard halls without food; bingo facilities without food; comedy clubs; separately enclosed bar areas within restaurants; separately enclosed areas and outdoor areas of restaurants (designated non-smoking outdoor areas must be provided); designated smoking rooms in hotels (not more than 1/4 of rooms may be so designated); outdoor bus stops; private residences not used for certain business purposes (child/adult day care or health care facility); certain private nursing home rooms; restaurants, hotel and motel conference or meeting rooms, and public and private assembly rooms, when these places are being used for private functions (with some restrictions); retail tobacco stores (with some restrictions); Stand-alone bars, where persons under the age of eighteen (18) years are not admitted; and tobacco product manufacturing facilities. (Ord. No. 97895, § 1, 8-7-03)
    Schertz, 2001 banned in restaurants, except if restaurant bar sales account for greater than 25% of a restaurant’s business. Bars exempt.
    Southlake, June 1, 2007, banned in all workplaces, restaurants, bars, and outdoor patio areas. The ordinance, as written, also bans smoking in all motel and hotel rooms.
    Sugar Land, January 1, 2008 banned in all businesses, except bars.
    West Lake Hills, smoking banned in public places.
    Woodway, banned in restaurants, bars, and workplaces.

    Ouch! Looks like the South isn’t quite the smokers’ paradise you claim it to be. Next time you should try researching a topic before bloviating on it, big guy. ;)

  4. Jay Reding says:

    Political instincts of a 13-year-old girl? Aren’t you the same guy who for the last 2 1/2 years have insisted that Hillary Clinton is this fierce political wunderkind making all the right moves and whom Democrats would be fools not to nominate? And surprise, surprise, now that her doomed nomination seems all but inevitable, you’re immediately telling us that 7th grade girls have better political instincts, and that Democrats are fools not to nominate Chris Dodd. My God, you’re a tool.

    No, what I meant by that is that Machiavelli doesn’t have shit on the average 13-year-old girl. Evidently you never had a younger sister…

  5. Eracus says:

    Clearly, you are much disturbed, Mark. That’s quite a display of pique. Now, why don’t you go down to Dixie and count all the places where people are relaxing and enjoying one of their most lucrative cash crops? The one the government subsidizes to produce and then taxes to consume to pay for all your socialist programs?

    And please, spare us all your childish ad hominem personal attacks. They only diminish you further as you are idiotically projecting what you imagine to be true when you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about or who you are talking to. Anyone can build a straw man and knock him down, and that’s all you’re doing.

    Get some help.

  6. Mark says:

    Eracus, I’ve given you an arm’s length worth of examples of smoking bans in the South, including statewide bans in Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Smoking bans are the exact sort of nannying measure that is a hallmark of big-government conservatism representative of the South….the only kind of conservatism that has a chance of winning in the 2008 election. I think it’s time to admit defeat rather than attempting to deflect your ignorant and disproven claim with another tired bait-and-switch that involves calling me a “disturbed socialist”.

    Rather amusing that you of all people lectures us about “ad hominem personal attacks”.

  7. Eracus says:

    There are smoking bans all over the country, Mark; it doesn’t mean people don’t still enjoy smoking. In Georgia, for instance, the ban typically affects only public spaces and those businesses that serve minors. All of which is beside the point, which is that the South in general is not as uptight about tobacco or people who use it as the white European socialists living up north are.

    You couldn’t be more wrong in your expressed opinions of the South, Mark, and citing some statistical data you found surfing the web is not going to whitewash your bigotry. Why don’t you just go back and check your own “arm’s length worth of examples” and count the number of exemptions for smoking in bars and clubs and special smoking rooms, for example? They have smoking rooms in hospitals, Mark. My brother, the doctor, is problaby smoking in one right now.

    And finally, Mark, you advocate socialist policies. Wouldn’t that make you a socialist? And given the amount of time and energy you spend attacking me personally, making up lies to accuse me of “proudly” denying my employees health insurance and suggesting I go kill myself as you have done in the past… Really, now. It certainly would seem to any outside observer that you are indeed a somewhat disturbed and confused young man.

  8. Mark says:

    Eracus, there are no smoking bans anywhere in the state of Iowa where I currently live. I guess that means that the “European socialists” here value smoking freedom more than residents of all but three Southern states.

    “Socialist policies” are a subjective term. If the city of Bemidji gives Wal-Mart tax increment financing to subsidize their latest “Super Center”, that’s a socialist policy….yet I’ll just bet you’d support it. Looks like socialism is a pretty big tent, good buddy….big enough for both of us.

    Please provide a citation where I have requested you kill yourself? Where would I go for comedy without your tall tales of having DFLers on the Beltrami County Board burn down your ice house if you were to kill yourself? TV sitcoms? I think not. I need you for levity in this increasingly troubled world.