Media coverage of the South Carolina primary made it seem as if we were all ringside at a boxing match. What passed for reporting on “substance” was how much money was getting thrown in the ring. It’s impossible to get out of the box of media coverage. Gingrich’s aggressive slapping down of John King’s legitimate question about his second wife’s “open Marriage” interview and the resulting storm of applause seemed to do the trick for undecided voters. Gingrich identified himself with President Andrew Jackson, as a man who knew that what you do with your enemies: “you kill them.” The candidate said that he didn’t just want to bloody Obama’s nose, “I want to knock him out.” (Note: We guess Gingrich was speaking figuratively. The athletic Obama clearly wouldn’t have much trouble taking care of Gingrich.)
All primary reports commented on the Republicans’ deep dislike for Obama (why we are never told) and the desire for someone to “fight” him, no holds barred. That seemed to translate for many into an actual qualification for the presidency. “You have to be tenacious… and be very aggressive to get things done as president and I think he showed all of that,” one primary voter was quoted as saying (WP,1/22).
Is there something we should be seeing beyond “I like the aggressive guy on reality TV who is willing to eat live snakes to kill off a rival?” For voters who want to knock Obama out, aggressiveness is an obvious qualification, but what about the 63 percent who listed the economy as its top issue? Are they thinking their candidate is going to “aggressively” tell CEOs he has just released them from taxes and regulatory burdens and now they must create jobs in the US?!
In their rage-filled heart of hearts, Republicans do seem passionately convinced that if freed from taxes and regulatory restraints the rich will create jobs in the US, so that prosperity tickles down from the 1 percent to the rest. Not likely. Recent Commerce Department data show that “as a whole US multinational firms reduced their workforce here by 2.9 million between 1999 and 2009,” while at the same time they added 2.4 million jobs overseas.
Many Republican voters say the size of the deficit is a big issue for them. Reducing the deficit is indeed important. Reducing healthcare costs is important to that end. Just rolling back the Bush tax cuts would help reduce the deficit and also free up money for government to spend on education and infrastructure, bolstering the economy and creating new jobs and new revenue to further reduce the deficit. However, the Republican voters don’t want government doing anything, so it is unclear where they see economic improvement coming from and how that translates into their voter preferences.
This suggests we should look to some deeper underlying reason for voter rage. Gingrich’s hugely applauded racist comments were in no sense “thinly veiled.” It is tempting to say that hatred of the “Other” was the unifying factor for the Gingrich voters. Perhaps, though, the unifying factor is broader. The hollowing out of the American middle class is an enormous change in America. It is creating fear and a deep sense of insecurity. Obama’s promise was change. The voter may be demanding, paradoxically, that their leaders fix our economic problems with a return to the status quo and not with “change.” They feel the status quo is what has been taken away from them. They wrongly blame Obama and will back anyone who can take him out.