The Freshmen congresspeople of the 2010 mid-term elections trooped up to Capitol Hill waving the flag of the "people's mandate". They felt, elected as they were by the popular movement of the Tea Party, that they had the authority of the American people to enact a political ideology. The people had seen the Democratic pretender for what he was, and they wanted a new brand of politician to sweep out the establishment, and create a newer, smaller government. Fast forward to today, and those Tea Party activists are threatening to throw their own people out of office, and the Republican establishment is slowly attempting to divorce itself from the right-wing upstart movement. 2006 saw a Democratic sweep of the House, a referendum, they said, on Bush's failed policies. 2008 saw a massive movement of people looking for an end to the war. 2010 saw a smaller but no less-vocal movement looking for less spending and less government, and now, heading into the 2012 election cycle, we have record low congressional approval and a new populist movement crying for the blood of big business. What is going on that Americans swing so wildly in their public sentiment?
In a phrase, the ant hill is toppling over. By "ant hill", I'm talking about the industrial, commercial, political, and social machinery that we're all complicit in building; a system that far out-favors big business and the wealthy over the self-sufficiency of the middle class. We've purchased, voted, and invested our way into the global economy as a kind of glass cannon; the most vital and powerful economy in the world that is so fragile that a single failing bank sent the entire economy into a tailspin. Our very industry has atrophied, once the marvel of the world it has become one of service and soft assets; wealth that can blow away with the backdraft of a subprime financial product. As much as politicians love to invoke the specter of "American voters", there are no more American voters. With such broad-ranging government assistance, there are only special interests now; retirees, veterans, immigrants, college students, unemployed, small businesses and corporations, and everyone looking to preserve their piece of the pie. We've built that ant hill, so top heavy and unwieldy, and now that it's beginning to topple, the ants are scurrying.
That's where pendulum politics comes in. Whenever you have such a large, national (even global) problem, there will be some people that emerge with "the solution". When a large enough group of people feel they have the answer, you have a "mandate"; kind of divinely granted people's desire for whomever they elect to enact it. We've had three mandates, one for each of the last elections, and it's created an incredibly reactionary and divisive national climate. When politicians enter the federal government feeling they have a mandate from the people, they pursue their agenda with an air of self-righteousness that is antithetical to the political process. This has been self-evident in both the debt-ceiling and budget debates of this summer, and the stellar failure of the so-called super committee. Likewise, President Obama entered two years before feeling that he had a similar mandate, one that allowed him to bulldoze opposition to his healthcare reform agenda once Democrats realized that the GOP would not be complicit in its creation. Now the stage is set for a similar wave of popular fervor to usher in another group of elected leaders; most likely some agenda involving the redistribution of the nation's wealth from big business to the middle class, or visa versa.
When this happens, the country becomes a proving ground for partisan ideology, a constant cycle of political over-reach, and subsequent backlash. People either draw entrenchments on either side of divisive issues, or begin the slide into voter fatigue and disillusionment with the entire process. Half the country cares too much about the wrong things and the other half don't care at all. Unfortunately, this is taking place during a time of near-record unemployment, millions living in poverty or near-poverty, and an uncertain economic future; a perfect storm for the kind of zig-zagging political and social environment with which we're left. These wild swings from left to right create a an overwhelming sense of either lacking in direction, or heading in the wrong direction (a sentiment reflected in most public polling).
However, with a higher altitude perspective, one can see that these periods of extreme and frequent switchbacks are kind of a natural storm before the calm; the ants scurrying before they get down to the business of rebuilding. Every major upheaval, be it social, political, or economic, is beset by wild swings from the left and right, from the conservative and the progressive, from the old and the new. Be it civil rights, the New Deal, or the American Civil War, great changes in our nation's lifetime are never born painlessly. This is the purpose of Pendulum Rider
, to give the swing and switch of the national narrative context and a broader commentary. It's by writing the present as history that we understand our place and time. Thinking we've come to these circumstances in a relative vacuum is childish and naive, and so are the actions and attitudes of the people the believe it. The best place to understand the pendulum's swing is from above it.