The Frustration Doctrine and American public opinion

New York Times News ServiceJune 25, 2014 

Americans' confidence in American leadership is flagging to such a degree that it poses a critical threat to our democracy, particularly as moneyed interests seek to manipulate the malaise and stir policy and politician away from principle and toward profit.

President Barack Obama's approval ratings remain underwater, and an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week found that his numbers have gotten even worse on foreign policy. As NBC put it:

"The percentage of Americans approving of President Barack Obama's handling of foreign policy issues has dropped to the lowest level of his presidency as he faces multiple overseas challenges, including in Iraq."

Furthermore, in the bad-news column for the administration and the country, a majority in the Journal poll felt that, for the remainder of his presidency, the president would not be able to lead and "get the job done," whatever getting the job done meant to the individuals answering.

It was not clear if these respondents held this view because of the obstacles of congressional obstruction, the premature hyperventilating about the 2016 cycle or if they believed there was something personally lacking in the president.

Whatever the case, assigning a president to lame-duck status more than two years before his term ends is probably not good for the psyche of a nation.

Congress doesn't fare better. Confidence in the legislature is actually much lower. According to a Gallup poll released last week, confidence in Congress has dropped to a historic low with only 7 percent of respondents saying they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the institution.

In fact, the Gallup poll, conducted early this month, found that less than a third of Americans have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the Supreme Court, and various other institutions, including public schools, banks, the criminal justice system, organized labor and big business.

Only three groups broke the 50 percent confidence mark: the military, the police and small businesses.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week also found that nearly two-thirds of Americans continue to believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

As many Americans, particularly those in the middle, throw up their hands in disgust and walk away in dismay, hyperpartisans -- particularly conservatives -- exert more influence.

According to a Pew Research Center report issued this month, while there are more moderates than consistent liberals or conservatives, those moderates are the least likely to be politically active. The ambivalent middle appears to be the cradle of apathy.

And while the consistently liberal are more likely to do things like volunteer for a candidate or a campaign, consistent conservatives are much more likely than liberals to vote.

This behavioral imbalance is only amplified by donors, who are exerting more influence on the parties and candidates by distributing more cash. And almost all of the biggest donors are now giving to Republican joint fundraising committees (JFCs).

According to a report issued this month by the Center for Responsive Politics:

"This year, there's been a clear shift in the profile of JFC contributors, with Republicans topping the list of the heftiest donors. So far this cycle, the top 20 deep-pocketed contributors to the joint committees are all giving to conservatives. In contrast, during the 2012 cycle four of the top five donors to JFCs were giving to Democrats."

Big money flooding our politics is what the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC rulings have wrought.

That's why, earlier this month, the Senate held a debate in the Judiciary Committee on a constitutional amendment proposed by a Democrat that was a direct response to the Supreme Court decisions.

Then there are the enormous and profound voter suppression efforts sweeping many parts of the country, particularly the South, and disproportionately disenfranchising people of color, as a new report from the Center for American Progress and the Southern Election Foundation points out.

There is a concerted effort to confuse, obfuscate and disenfranchise -- to push more people away from the process, so that those who remain have more influence.

We can't afford to get frustrated and check out. We have to ask ourselves: Is frustration part of the plan? Is your exasperation an entree to your marginalization? And, if your vote isn't valuable, why are so many working so hard to take it away?

Don't let your frustration become your foil; wield it like a sword. Vote.

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