There is a relatively simple way to ascertain how neither Republicans nor Democrats no longer represent the will of average voters and show how out of touch the political class is with most people.
The litmus test comes down to three major issues: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case and raising taxes on the wealthy. No matter the source, poll after poll reveal how a majority of Americans stand on these issues and what they want to see their government do. And in almost every case, the government hasn’t done it.
A poll this month conducted jointly by The Washington Post and ABC News found that 78 percent of Americans support President Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by year’s end. (Are you paying attention, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry?) More importantly, it found that 62 percent of respondents said the war wasn’t worth the cost in blood and treasure, while only 33 percent said it was worth fighting.
Another poll this month, this one conducted by Canadian-based Angus Reid Public Opinion, found that 65 percent of U.S. respondents think the war in Iraq wasn’t worth the human and financial toll. Also, just 22 percent expect history to view the Iraq War as a victory decades from now.
Those findings aren’t an aberration. At least since 2006, many polls have proclaimed similar findings. That’s why congressional Democrats did so well in the ‘06 midterm elections and is, in large part, why Obama won in 2008.
And although the numbers aren’t as clear-cut on the conflict in Afghanistan, or “the good war” as it once was known, what is certain is that Americans want to scale back our involvement there. A poll released by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in June found that 56 percent of Americans want all military forces removed from Afghanistan, an “all-time high,” according to the Washington-based polling firm. Just 39 percent support keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan until the situation is stabilized — an ambiguous goal whose definition seems to change every few months.
While it’s true that public sentiment toward the war began seriously shifting once Osama bin Laden was killed in a military raid last May, even before then Americans’ tolerance for the war was waning. Since 2009, the trend has been toward either keeping troop levels the same or decreasing them. A Pew poll from December of that year found that 32 percent of Americans supported increasing U.S. troops there, while 40 percent favored decreasing them.
To put the situations into some perspective, more than 4,400 U.STotal costs for the wars have surpassed $1 trillion.
Although Obama has committed to withdrawing the remaining 39,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by year’s end, and another 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by next summer — just before the presidential election — those figures don’t tell the whole story. Obama and his advisors originally had hoped to leave about 10,000 troops in Iraq, but the Iraqi government’s refusal to grant those troops immunity from criminal prosecution for any future wrongdoing scuttled that plan. And more than 70,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan, probably through the end of 2014 and likely much longer.
Yes, dear readers, after more than a decade of conflict in the Middle Eastern nation, the word “quagmire” does seem appropriate. War is the only government-funded jobs programs that conservatives will endorse, and most Democrats are afraid of rocking that particular boat too much.
Nevertheless, the military adventures are the most controversial aspect of our litmus test. Public opinion on the other two issues is starker and much more well-defined.
When it comes to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission case, the public’s stance couldn’t be clearer. That landmark 5-4 decision in January 2010 overturned a lower court’s ruling and removed existing restraints on corporations, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns.
Reaction against the decision was overwhelming, immediate and consistent. A February 2010 poll by The Washington Post and ABC News found the ruling was opposed by 85 percent of the Democrats polled, 76 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independents.
An October 2010 poll by The New York Times and CBS News yielded similar findings. It found nearly eight in 10 Americans believe it is important to limit the amount of money campaigns can spend. Among those stating that limits are important were 68 percent of Democratic respondents, 59 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans.
A Hart Research survey from January of this year found that 87 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of independents and 68 percent of Republicans support the passage of a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling. That’s what is known as broad consensus.
But neither Obama nor any of the serious GOP presidential contenders have endorsed a move for such an amendment. The Republican Party has long whored itself to Big Business, but it should be noted that Obama “has raised more from the financial and banking sectors this year than all of the GOP presidential hopefuls combined,” according to United Press International.
In total, Our Man Barry has raised $15.9 million either for himself or the Democratic National Committee.
Earlier this month, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced a proposed amendment that would overturn the ruling and allow Congress and the states to regulate campaign financing. Its passage will require a two-thirds majority approval in both the House and the Senate — meaning all Democratic members and some Republican members would need to support it. If approved by Congress, the amendment would be sent to the states, where three-fourths of the states would need to ratify it.
That’s a tough road but one which should be doable, if politicians were listening to the will of the people.
Then there’s the whole “tax the wealthy” bit. Perhaps no issue has more broad-based support than this one. A poll last month by CBS News found that 64 percent of respondents preferred a tax increase on people who earn $1 million or more annually. Supporters included 83 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents and 40 percent of Republicans.
A Gallup poll from September found 66 percent of respondents backed increasing income taxes on individuals earning over $200,000, and 70 percent supporting higher taxes on corporations.
Even a recent poll conducted by American Express that surveyed only people who earn $100,000 or more annually found 65 percent support for a “millionaires’ tax.”
The message is clear, but Republicans remain steadfast in their opposition to tax increases, and Obama isn’t pushing too hard against them. It begs the question:
Who are they really serving?
Each of these issues is important. But collectively, a change in policy direction on all of them would have an enormous impact on the U.S. political landscape.
Let’s see if any of these positions are included in the political platforms approved by the Democratic and Republican parties during their conventions next summer. If they’re not, Americans should insist on an answer about why.