This is a short essay on voter anger -- its origin, its attributes, its meaning and its cure. Hint: Most Americans are worse off than they were a long time ago.
I started noticing voter anger around 2009. Initially, its locus was the Tea Party. They're the ones who would form a circle around a political event, holding hands, and start chanting expletives. I attributed this to the Tea Party's deep dissatisfaction with living in the 21st century. To them, basically, everything went south when Jane Wyatt stopped playing Robert Young's Stepford wife on Father Knows Best, and started playing Spock's mother, Amanda ... Grayson, on Star Trek. (Does that mean that Spock and I are future relatives? I don't know.) For them, things have never been the same since.
Generally speaking, the problem for Team Blue is not anger; it's apathy. However, by roughly the year 2012, Team Blue had caught up in the Anger Games, and the score was tied.
Politically, we then entered very interesting territory. For many years up to that time, polling had showed that even when Congress had a negative approval rating, most voters wanted to reelect their individual members of Congress. (It's as though Congress had become Garrison Keilor's Lake Wobegone, where all the children are above average.) No more. Now polls showed a majority in favor of voting out one's own member of Congress, a matter quite unnerving to one's own member of Congress. Moreover, polls showed that most voters wished that voting booths offered a magic Shakespearean "let's kill all the incumbents" button that would let them throw out all the bums by extending a single digit. (The middle one, I surmise.) And speaking of digits, Congress's approval rating sank into single digits.
Why? Well, the superficial explanation is that voters feel that elected officials simply aren't listening. We had a good example of that a few weeks ago, on the Fast Track bill. A GOP member of Congress confided in me that his calls and emails were running 100-to-1 against Fast Track. In some Democratic offices, the numbers probably were even more one-sided. (Many of the people reading these very words had something to do with that.) Nevertheless, in the Party of the People, 13 Democratic Senators initially voted against proceeding with Fast Track, and then voted for proceeding with Fast Track. So that gutless anti-egalitarian bill slipped past a Senate filibuster with no votes to spare. Then, in the House, 28 Democratic Congressmen broke ranks, passing Fast Track by only four extra votes. (Meaning that if four votes had switched, Fast Track would have been halted in its ... tracks.) From the voters' perspective, that's a very good example of "you're not listening to me!"
But here is the deeper explanation for all of that anger: For most Americans, life simply is getting harder. This was painfully obvious from a Sage Foundation study last year, following up on an article in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. The study looked at changes in the wealth of American households over a decade, from 2003 to 2013. The study found that median net worth had dropped by 36 percent, from $87,992 to $56,335.
Let me repeat that: The net worth of the average American household dropped by more than one-third in ten years. The decline from the 2007 peak was almost 50 percent, in just six years. (Most of that loss was in the value of one's home -- home is where the heartache is.)
That's why everyone is so angry.
The net worth decline of someone at the 25th percentile (meaning that three-quarters of all household are richer than you) was even more extreme -- from $10,129 to $3200. And among the bottom five percent, whose net worth is negative, their debt tripled.
Only the top 10 percent of all Americans improved their standards of living during that decade. As the study summarized, "wealth inequality increased significantly from 2003 through 2013; by some metrics inequality roughly doubled."
By the way, this is not an isolated study. Other studies have shown declining hourly wages going all the way back to 1974. That's more than four decades of worse-and-worse.
Look at what's been in the headlines lately: Fast Track. Obamacare. Power plant emissions. Marriage equality. Greece. Entirely absent from the airwaves is any discussion of what's really on people's minds, i.e., this.
So, to sum it up, people's lives are circling the drain, and nobody's even talking about it, much less doing something about it. That's why everyone is so angry. And I'm hoping against hope that my party, the Democratic Party, wakes up and does something about it.
Speaking for myself, I'll try my best to do something about it. But you knew that already.
Rep. Alan Grayson