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Elites Trying to Blame Voters for Their Own Failures

Blame PlantPollsters decided to release a bunch of table-setters prior to the return of Congress and the Obama jobs speech this week, and they all say basically the same thing: Americans have lost faith in the institution of government. That’s what underlies the numbers from ABC/WaPo, NBC/WSJ and Politico/GWU. The right track-wrong track, with negatives pushing above 70%, tell the story more than anything. Jon Walker has the story.

But I want to address this new meme that’s popped up, that politicians are merely reflecting the wishes of their constituents, and it’s those stupid voters who are really to blame:

The world economy is paying a price for democracy.

As recoveries from the U.S. to Europe lose momentum, policy makers are running into gridlock formed by the politicking and ideological preferences of governments that voters have chosen. Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. squabble about how to restrain the budget deficit and spur job growth, while officials throughout the euro zone differ over how best to safeguard the future of the single currency.

This is pretty ridiculous. Spain has a Socialist government, as does Greece. Italy has a business tycoon in charge. Germany, Britain and France have right-wing governments (relatively speaking). And yet all of them are enacting austerity programs. If you want to say that voters chose them and they’re “getting what they deserved,” well, OK. Except not one of these leaders ran on a platform of austerity and fiscal retrenchment. That’s just been their only response to the sovereign debt crisis, mostly imposed from outside their borders, whether from the IMF or other European countries. This is not democracy in any respect.

In the United States, the President ran on one program and the Republicans in Congress ran on another. Because the elections were staggered in the Presidential system, both sides have some degree of power and authority. How can this be called a problem that voters imposed? It’s a structural problem of the particular democratic system used in America, not a problem of democracy. It could not be replicated in Britain or Germany or Italy or anywhere with a Parliamentary structure. The shift to Parliamentary-like rigidity between the parties, and a Presidential system with distributed powers, has slowed down the process to dysfunction.

It’s easy to see what’s going on here. Elites, having broken the world, are trying to pin the blame on voters. It’s not voters’ fault that their votes matter far less than the elite consensus, which has been adopted by virtually every politician, regardless of stated ideology, and which has been proven to be tragically wrong.

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David Dayen

David Dayen