Voters scream for help reveals deeper problems

by Joe Ferullo

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This is yet another election year that belongs to "the angry voter." But angry about what? Research highlighted in the New York Times says it's not unemployment or the deficit -- the real frustration comes from the kind of society we've grown into and are leaving to our kids.

In his Times online column, political reporter Matt Bai cited this startling fact: if the Republicans take-over Congress in the November elections, it will mark the third consecutive presidency in which control of Congress has flipped -- a first in this country's already volatile political history.

Something beyond politics is going on here, Bai writes. Independent voters keep swinging back and forth between parties: Democrats won them by 13 points in 2006, Obama won them by 13 points in 2008, and now the GOP is favored among them by - yes - 13 points. Issues can't be at the heart of this, you don't swing back and forth on issues that the parties treat in diametrically opposed ways. I'm for heathcare. No, I'm not. I'm anti-war ... but now I am pro.. No -- the vote pendulum simply marks the only way our system gives people to demonstrate their frustration.

At what? Bai reports on a study conducted by corporate marketing consultants -- instead of the usual political people. They got groups of middle class voters -- all friends and relatives -- in living rooms and asked thm to invent their own country. They were then told to compare these idealized versions to the nation in which they actually lived.

No one talked about healthcare. Or bank bailouts. No mention of birth certificates or immigration. Instead, the dominant themes seemed to focus on the breakdown of civil society: the vanishing of common courtesy, the constant stream of communication from various digital leashes, and the effects media had on children.

Yes, people worried about jobs and money - but most often in connection to how these would relieve the other stresses. One woman quoted by Bai said: "We all think that if we had a lot of money, everything would slow down and we could enjoy ourselves.”

It is a scream for help that politics can't hear. Like a dog whistle, it is a cry above their level of capability. Politicians deal with issues: tax cuts, bank reform, health insurance.

But the anger out there lives on a different plane: it comes from lives that feel over-burdened, under-appreciated, and empty.

Critics of consumer society -- including Catholic leaders and thinkers -- will recognize this rumble. They will understand there is little politics or politicians can do about it. But come November, people will use the only tool they have to say: this is just not working for me.

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