James Carville told Bill Clinton in 1992 that they were going to win the election if they adequately communicated this thesis to the American people: “It’s the economy, stupid.” He was right then, and in any election we ever have in this country where the economy feels vulnerable that will be true again. National security takes precedence in voters minds only when they feel financially secure. I am not condoning this sort of bizarre group-think, but I am fairly certain that I have accurately identified it. I am also not saying thay voters do the right thing when they vote one way or the other responsively to economic concerns; I am simply saying that those issues are going to be paramount in their minds when they vote. And ten out of ten times, poor economic conditions will be associated with the incumbent party whether it ought to be or not. Carville knew what he was talking about. It is the economy, stupid.
But as a political junkie and extremely amateur social commentator/observer, I am more interested in what really moves the needle of culture than I am what moves the needle of elections. The reality is that the most certain thing I can say about politics is that some of the most ignorant people on the subject in the entire world are the “experts”. Job security can be found in two arenas as best I can tell: (1) Tenured professors who teach utter drivel to their innocent students, and (2) Political consultants who wouldn’t know an astute thought if it hit them in the side of the head. But I digress …
People’s perceptions of their financial security dictate their voting behavior. But I am as convinced as I have ever been that it is the moral character of a nation that will ultimately dictate its direction and prominence. I am inundated on a daily basis with people who believe that we are an election result here and a tax cut there away from societal bliss. It is tragic – utterly tragic. I am actually in favor of a whole lot of tax cuts, and I am really hopeful for a wide variety of specific election results. But those hopes are short-term tactical, and mid-term pragmatic, but nothing else. We believe that if only the government had not fueled this housing bubble we would not have had the current economic crisis, and we are right. But we obsess on this point while ignoring the moral culpability of the literally millions of people who have decided to quit making a house payment that is within their resources to pay. Moral hazard, indeed. We lambast the Wall Street psychosis that leveraged the investment capital of the biggest banks to the point of absurdity, and we have every right to do so. But we do this while ignoring the utter foolishness of both Congress and the people who elected them to office in mandating policies of social safety nets, financial bailoutism, and overt ignoring of financial prudence. We blast our leaders for running up a debt level that defies the imagination, yet we scream about any signs of cost-cutting that dare to impact the social services we have decided we are entitled to.
When it comes to my advocacy of social policy and particularly my political voting habits I am going to lean on the side of freedom every single time. But when it comes to what I believe it will take to actually change the world, I know that it is only a moral and virtuous society that has any chance of properly stewarding such political and economic freedom.
To get elected, it is the economy, stupid. To make it mean something, it is the morality, stupid.