When even a neocon mouthpiece like David Brooks admits the system is losing its legitimacy, then the system must really be in trouble. Of course, Brook’s call for a return to the “vital center” establishment consensus of the 1950s is pathetic. See William Houston’s response to Brooks as well.
Over the past months, we’ve seen a fascinating phenomenon. The public mood has detached from the economic cycle. In normal times, economic recoveries produce psychological recoveries. At least at the moment, that seems not to be happening.
The U.S. has experienced nine straight months of slow economic growth. The unemployment rate has fallen, and, in March, the U.S. economy added a robust 216,000 jobs. Yet the public mood is darkening, not brightening. The New York Times/CBS News poll showed a 13 percentage point increase in the number of Americans who believe things are getting worse. The Gallup Economic Confidence Index is now as low as it has been since the height of the recession.
Public opinion is not behaving the way it did after other recent recessions.
If you dive deeper into the polling, you see the country is not mobilized by this sense of crisis but immobilized by it. Raising taxes on the rich is popular, but nearly every other measure that might be taken to address the fiscal crisis is deeply unpopular. Sixty-three percent of Americans oppose raising the debt ceiling; similar majorities oppose measures to make that sort of thing unnecessary.
There is a negativity bias in the country, especially among political independents and people earning between $30,000 and $75,000 (who have become extremely gloomy). It is hard to rally majorities behind immigration, energy or tax reform.
At some point something is going to happen to topple the political platform — maybe a debt crisis, maybe when China passes the United States as the world’s largest economy, perhaps as early as 2016. At that point, we could see changes that are unimaginable today.
New political forces will emerge from the outside or the inside. A semi-crackpot outsider like Donald Trump could storm the gates and achieve astonishing political stature. Alternatively, insiders like the Simpson-Bowles commission or the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Six” could assert authority and recreate a strong centrist political establishment, such as the nation enjoyed in the 1950s.
Neither seems likely now. But in these circumstances, rule out nothing.