What the People Want Versus What The People Get

DougJ touched on this a little earlier, but the biggest con of the last few decades is how the right wing has been able to frame the debate. You would never know it given the standards of debate set by our media shills, third way corporate sell-out blue-dog Democrats, and Republicans, but amazingly, over 60% of the public doesn’t want weaker unions. Close to 60% of the public doesn’t want the EPA gutted and doesn’t want to drink and breathe toxic water and air. Over 60% of the public thinks we should raise taxes on the rich. Large percentages favored regulating Wall Street. Huge majorities supported allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military, 75% of the public is pro-choice to some extent, and over 65% of the country supported a public option.

And you can go on and on and on with this stuff. Consistently, when asked, right wing positions on issues are summarily rejected by large percentages of the population. Yet we are constantly only given choices that range from center right to far right, and anyone who suggests any of the things the public actually want is declared a crazy lefty. Through fake “grass-roots” campaigns like the tea party, carefully constructed dishonest talking points from Frank Luntz, to a class of media personalities with vested interests in the maintenance of the status quo, and politicians in both parties who realize their real constituents are the big money boys, the Wall Street banks, and the billionaire cranks. It’s really quite amazing to watch.

This isn’t anything new, of course. The always excellent Media Education Foundation was talking about this stuff in quite clear terms a decade ago. It’s still amazing to see it happen over and over and over again.

And, of course, Fox News just goes above and beyond the call of duty with the obfuscation.

67 replies
  1. 1
    jl says:

    I don’t see where Mr. Cole noted that between 60 and 80 percent of the public wanted some kind of public option as part of health care reform, which, mysteriously, could never even be considered or discussed by Congress.

    Edit: but good post, and I clicked the link to the Fox News after I made the comment. That was a good one. Can they be prosecuted for mental abuse of the elderly, who are about the only people who watch them?

  2. 2
    John Cole says:

    @jl: Then you didn’t read the post.

  3. 3
    jl says:

    Oops. How did I miss that? Sorry.

    OK. Totally good post!

  4. 4
    chopper says:

    silent majority is silent.

  5. 5
    Kryptik says:

    Policies don’t matter anymore. Labels do. And the labels say that conservatives are real Americans, liberals are dirty fucking unserious America-hating hippies, and Republicans are the fiscal grown-ups, while Democrats literally sold off the country.

    It doesn’t matter that when given policy options detached from labels or ideology, most people choose what the liberals and Dems are generally fighting for. Because you can’t propose policy without ideology and labels, and the right has so successfully tainted the Liberal, Progressive, and Democratic brand to mean everything America hates, even when they generally propose everything America actually wants.

  6. 6
    Turgidson says:

    Yeah, but overwhelming majorities only support that stuff for themselves. Not for young bucks eating T-bones they bought with the 16 welfare checks they’re scamming out of the do-nothing government that always raises taxes on hard-working real ‘Murkins.

    Get a brain, moran!

  7. 7
    celticdragonchick says:

    Breaking news…the asshole asst atyy Gen Jeffrey Cox in Indiana has just been fired after calling for union protesters to be shot and killed.


  8. 8

    Good times.

    If the GOP hadn’t gone completely insane, I might start questioning why I continue my participation in the charade of voting.

  9. 9
    Danny says:

    John, great post but at the risk of sounding like jl I think the 75% pro choice number is a bit misleading. After following your link it seems like you’re adding the “Generally Available” and “Available with Stricter Limitations” numbers. To me “Available with Stricter Limitations” is what most Republicans support, which is abortion should be legal only in the case of rape, incest or life of the mother.

    I think the VA Commonwealth survey provides better numbers. Unfortunately those numbers show that a plurality (44%) of Americans support the Republican view. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that people don’t talk about abortion openly, and allow Republicans to frame the debate, but it’s a bit misleading to say 75% of Americans are pro-choice to some extent.

  10. 10
    Chris says:

    This goes back to what I’ve observed from some conservatives, that you can get them to support individual liberal policies, but the moment they find out they’re liberal, their brain hits RESET because liberals are the Other Tribe and you’re not supposed to agree with anything they do because shut up, that’s why. Not suggesting everyone’s like that, but quite a few of them are. The Fox noise machine works well.

  11. 11
    QDC says:

    I do think this is where a lot of anger can legitimately directed at the blue dogs. I don’t expect that we’ll get a great dem senator in Nebraska or Montana, and if we need the votes of senators from those states to push through a piece of legislation, then it may end up watered down.

    But the conservative dems take up so much damn oxygen that the actual position of the bulk of the Dem party doesn’t even show up on the radar. Rather than blue dogs defecting from the party line, which I hate but can tolerate, the party line becomes the blue dog line. The independents who are somewhat attracted to the positions you just listed don’t see those positions reflected in the Democratic party, so they don’t have much reason to support it.

  12. 12
    RosiesDad says:

    @celticdragonchick: Damn…you beat me to it. I guess he’ll have more free time to hang out at the range.

    @Comrade Dread: You may continue voting as long as you remember that it is largely a charade.

  13. 13
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @celticdragonchick: Good.

  14. 14
    jibeaux says:

    I’m in NC, one of the 5 states that doesn’t allow collective bargaining for public employees. And the main reason I was always suspicious of John Edwards’ 2 Americas and rah-rah populism is that some of us here can remember when he was in the Senate and running for office, etc., talking about how NC needed to remain a “right to work” state. So, to recap, a presidential candidate identified for many months as the biggest leftie/prog in the bunch didn’t think his state needed what 45 states already have and which a sizable majority of the American population supports.

  15. 15
    Martin says:

    @celticdragonchick: Hippie thugs strike again! Conservatives just aren’t safe in this country!

  16. 16
    fasteddie9318 says:


    Breaking news…the asshole asst atyy Gen Jeffrey Cox in Indiana has just been fired after calling for union protesters to be shot and killed.

    I’m sure he’s now “failed” his way to a multi-million dollar gig at FNC.

  17. 17
    Observer says:

    I don’t think the tea-party is fake grass roots. Yes the fire starting catalysts were bought and paid for but there were too many Tea Party groups who then saw and made a DIY group. And in casual conversation, there are just too many true believers as it were.

    Other than that, the basic thrust of this post is the Repub pols are smarter than Dem pols in that they can get votes for things the public apparently doesn’t want.

    I know that’s not what you meant, but that’s the inescapable conclusion. Whether it’s because the Repubs actually smart (ha ha!) or it’s just that Dem pols are *really* dumb, doesn’t matter.

  18. 18
    cokane says:

    Welp, ppl should be voting more often. I worked for AFLCIO political campaigns in ohio, on and off since 2004–people in ohio simply didn’t turn out in 2010.



    so polls can be done on what americans want, or they can simply vote and prevent these radical assholes like kasich from winning positions of power.

  19. 19
    Guster says:

    @Martin: That’s totally true. When was the last time that a liberal was fired for saying that Americans should be shot with live ammunition? Huh? Huh?

  20. 20
    geg6 says:


    And Iowa’s governor has told his legislature that he has no interest in ending collective bargaining. As Benen so beautifully puts it, the Cheese stands alone.

  21. 21
    RosiesDad says:

    Yet we are constantly only given choices that range from center right to far right, and anyone who suggests any of the things the public actually want is declared a crazy lefty.

    They get away with this only because the vast majority of Americans are ignorant/stupid and easily co-opted to act against their best interests. And as I said earlier today, they probably deserve what they get. Maybe if they are beaten enough, they will take responsibility for getting informed and act accordingly. But until then, don’t you feel like the little boy with his finger in the dike?

  22. 22
    Poopyman says:

    @celticdragonchick: Damn! They violated his First Amendment rights!

    (/Snark, although I would hope that wasn’t necessary.)

  23. 23
    celticdragonchick says:


    No doubt the wingnut howler monkeys will get their marching orders shortly.

  24. 24
    Poopyman says:

    @Observer: It’s because the money goes to the candidates/legislators who do the bidding of the monied interests. That’s usually a Republican.

  25. 25
    jl says:

    There is a documented history of a long standing divide and conquer strategy used by the reactionaries. As I remember, it goes like

    1 use government policy to grind the faces of the non rich
    2 stir up resentment against government created by the grinding and divide the non rich electorate
    3 win elections due to votes from the non rich grinded voters you have duped
    4 profit!

    This approach has been documented, but I don’t know where to find it now. Anyone know?

    I don’t understand why the Democrats have not made more of this strategy by quoting it to the public to reveal the con. Maybe they are afraid of being accused of waging class war by quoting verbatim the cynical strategy of the opposition.

    The only good thing is that in the long run it is a loser strategy, unless the reactionaries can grab all levers of power and create massive disenfranchisement and voter suppression. Because they have to split off more and more voters to demonize in their divide and conquer strategy.

    This is ancient history, but remember when white union ‘silent majority’ types were to be the backbone of the GOP? Well, neither do I ’cause I was too young to follow that stuff back then, but you can read about it books. Now all these erstewhile patriotic silent majority union members are communist thugs.

    It is a strategy that will drive the population of dupes down to a few scared elderly people, which is exactly what is happening.

    They will lose in the long run if we can prevent them from their efforts at voter suppression, and from destroying the country in the meantime. Those may be difficult to accomplish, but they are do able.

  26. 26
    eemom says:

    so it is NOT acceptable for a state’s attorney and officer of the court to advocate the murder of unarmed civilians? Kewl!!

  27. 27
    trollhattan says:


    And thus, another Wingnut Distinguished Service Cross of Valor and Lamestream Media Victim (C) (TM) is born. I smell Regenry(TM) book deal!

  28. 28
    Alwhite says:

    Yes, and when polled the majority of Americans reject Ronald Reagan’s polices on just about everything. And yet, they elected him and re-elected him.

    I didn’t understand it then, don’t understand it now but fully expect it to keep happening.

  29. 29
    General Stuck says:

    The GOP has, and now flourishes in the presence of willful ignorance of the electorate. All of their tricks of the trade are based on that seeming eternal state of apathy,

    That is why generally speaking, the slow con, and it’s heist has been measured and has largely worked. Because they face a dilemma that is inherent in their final goals, which is and always has been destroying or weakening the middle class and capturing the wealth there for their plutocrat paymasters. It is a delicate balance to maintain, not to alert the sheeples, especially the ones that vote GOP, to the game as it really is.

    They are desperate now, as demographics are nipping at their electoral heels, and they are risking a temp backlash for the prize of defunding the dem party for the long term. The problem is there are only so many true believers like Walker, to depend on weathering the backlash. And Walker needs his entire WI senate gooper caucus to stay in line, and they just likely won’t when the zombie American voters get rousted and start walking the streets.

    The wingers in general believe, like Walker, just not as much as he does, which is not enough. And that goes for about every state. Daniels and Scott realized this, and that once they committed to such a thing, it had to be assured success or they would be pol toast.

    The real game, unfortunately for liberals, is set in relative stone now with Citizens United ABOMINATION, and whatever havoc congressional wingnuts, and possibly the SCOTUS courts can wreak.

    Doing all this at the state level is just too close to Ma and Pa Kettles kitchen. Better done via federal, that are easier to demagogue and demonize, and more removed from close to where average people live.

  30. 30
    Chris says:


    This approach has been documented, but I don’t know where to find it now. Anyone know?

    I don’t sorry. But the classic example is politics in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, when identity politics divided rural, Northern WASPs (Republicans) from Southern WASPs and urban non-WASP immigrants, mostly Catholics or Jews (Democrats).

  31. 31
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @eemom: Weird that. Isn’t it?

  32. 32
    El Cid says:

    People overwhelmingly opposed Reagan’s policies. But it didn’t matter, because (a) they re-elected him, and (b) our establishment media kissed his ass.

  33. 33
    Kryptik says:


    I wish I could say this was observed in just conservatives, sadly, you see far too many ‘moderates’ and ‘centrists’ pull this shit too. It’s fine, until you realize said policies come from a ‘liberal’, thus meaning it’ll be a ‘tax and spend porkulus laden disaster’, and thus we HAVE to support the conservative alternative instead. So what if the conservative option doesn’t work, at least we were spared the disaster of daring to be LIBERAL!

  34. 34
    Chris says:


    Is the “silent majority” shoe on the other foot now?

  35. 35
    RosiesDad says:

    @General Stuck: In my pessimistic moments, I see this leading to a redux of the French Revolution.

  36. 36
    Chris says:


    That too. I had an Internet argument back in 2009 with a self-proclaimed moderate Democrat who simultaneously bitched at Obama for taking it up the ass from Wall Street and refusing to stick his neck out for a public option, and also bitched that he was a far left radical who palled around with Bill Ayers and didn’t love America. (Helped that the guy was mildly racist).

    Hardline conservatives don’t, indeed, have a monopoly on this stupidity. It’s a prejudice they’ve managed to inject into America with quite a bit of success.

  37. 37
    WyldPirate says:

    Nice rant, but the only thing that will change what has been going on in the past 30 or so years is a catastrophic economic collapse on the order of the Great Depression followed by a revolution ranging in severity from what happened in Egypt (though to early to tell if that one will lead to change) to something much messier.

    Ronnie Raygun started the demise of the Republic in earnest. The final “nails” are being put in the coffin by the Rethugs now. The Citizens United case was a big nail going in on the coffin lid, the Rethugs are working diligently on the rest now. The Dems are helping our for the most part because they are bought off by the same SOBs that have bought off the Rethugs.

  38. 38
    cokane says:

    @Chris: Well, I can only speak for Ohio, don’t follow these trends nationally. But meh, they’re certainly a vocal majority during a presidential election. This is the problem when part of your base is low-income folks, they will have low education levels and inordinately vote less often–esp midterms. Definitely met some strong democrats in 2010 who had absolute faith that since Obama was in office, everything would take care of itself. Obama also won with a whole bunch of first time voters in 2008, and those folks too are gonna be less likely to vote regularly.

  39. 39
    ppcli says:

    @RosiesDad: In my pessimistic moments I see us dispensing with the French Revolution altogether and proceeding directly to the Bourbon Restoration.

  40. 40
    Malron says:

    I’m sure I’ll be accused of being a stinking ageist, but I’m pretty sure that most of the 33% that opposes anything progressive is older than I am (I’m 50) and working in positions of power where they have a bigger influence on public discourse than those who are younger than me. i mean, all you have to do is look at the leadership of both parties, the heads of most corporations and the physical makeup of the media and you’ll see a group thats older, overwhelmingly male, whiter and much more conservative than the country we actually live in.

  41. 41
    LGRooney says:

    Is it too much to think this may be the beginning of their end and we can see a return to some common sense at some point in the future?

  42. 42
    General Stuck says:


    You need to read The Family

  43. 43
    danimal says:

    I’ll never understand why sensible liberals are systematically eliminated from the civil discourse. It’s an outrage, really.

    From a business perspective, ignoring a third of the American population is a mystery. Even large corporations that don’t have our best interests at heart should see the opportunity. Instead, we get the weak drivel of MSNBC and an occasional guest Sunday morning on Meet the McCain.

    I don’t like the theory that evil corporations are stifling liberal opinions, but it’s hard to find other plausible theories.

  44. 44
    danimal says:

    Please note that liberals can get on tv if they are: 1)weird-looking activist types like the Code Pink gals or 2) zonked out celebrities clearly out of their league.

    So it really does even out if you think about it.


  45. 45
    4jkb4ia says:

    Through fake “grass-roots” campaigns like the tea party, carefully constructed dishonest talking points from Frank Luntz, to a class of media personalities with vested interests in the maintenance of the status quo, and politicians in both parties who realize their real constituents are the big money boys, the Wall Street banks, and the billionaire cranks


    This is a sentence fragment. This is undeniably petty, and I have written them myself here, but EW needs a copy editor fairly often, too.

    It is ironic that John posted about DADT on the very day that DOJ has decided that it could not defend DOMA in the courts. The choices available to the court system still include the center-left, and are often made, even after decades of Republican court-packing. The court system and its “unelected judges” may be more sensitive to public opinion than elected Republican politicians even if there is little overt public participation in their decisions.

  46. 46
    Ryan says:

    The public also voted to ‘kick the bums out’; demonstrating that the public doesn’t know how the hell electoral politics works on a fundamental level.

  47. 47
    General Stuck says:


    In my pessimistic moments, I see this leading to a redux of the French Revolution.

    This time, the guillotines will be wireless.

  48. 48
    NR says:

    @cokane: People didn’t turn out to vote because the Democrats didn’t give them a reason to turn out to vote.

    Milquetoast corporatism doesn’t inspire anyone. When your only choices are between center-right and far right, you aren’t going to have tons of people lining up for center-right.

  49. 49
    4jkb4ia says:

    I understood John to mean that fake “grass-roots” campaigns like the tea party, etc. behave as if these are the only choices there are.

  50. 50
    Violet says:

    Anyone have any thoughts about how the demise of traditional media will affect any of this?

  51. 51
    NR says:

    @Ryan: A Democratic congressional aide phrased it perfectly. In 2006, the people voted to kick out the party of endless war and corporate bailouts. In 2008, the people voted to kick out the party of endless war and corporate bailouts. And in 2010, the people voted to kick out the party of endless war and corporate bailouts.

  52. 52
    4jkb4ia says:

    Except that cokane is talking about Ohio and Ted Strickland doesn’t give me the impression of being a milquetoast corporatist. Lee Fisher evidently ran such an awful campaign that Strickland was the top of the ticket voters would come out for. Kay almost certainly knows more about this.

  53. 53
    Maggie Meehan says:

    After reading all this angst and sturm und drang…what is a good-faith, liberal or even progressive independent (70 white female) or any one else to do and, however modest, are you doing any of it? What are you preparing for your grandchild?

  54. 54
    freelancer says:

    OMFG,WTF Sully?!

    The raw partisanship and threats confirm to me that this is a classic piece of partisan warfare under the guise of fiscal conservatism. It also confirms every left-wing conspiracy theorist on the power of the Koch brothers. “Bring a baseball bat?”

    Conspiracy Theorist? Effin’ Conspiracy Theorist?! Trig Palin speculation is conspiracy theory, Glenn Beck is a Conspiracy Theorist. Alex Jones (no relation) is a Conspiracy Theorist. Moon hoaxers are Conspiracy Theorists.

    But the link between conservative Republican campaign cash leading back to funding by a relative few millionaires including the Kochs, and the paper trail linking them to the false grassroots of the Tea Party and their inflation of a fledgling populist movement in favor of less taxes for the rich is well documented and well reported fact. Asshole.

  55. 55
    NR says:

    @4jkb4ia: The strong message and policies of a party as a whole is the key. When a majority of the Democratic party acts in a cowardly way, refuses to fight for policies sufficient to help the economy, and does a horrible job of defending people from corporate power, the general climate against Democrats becomes so bad that even good candidates like Strickland are going to lose, even if individually they say and do the right things.

  56. 56
    Napoleon says:


    Strickland ran a good populist campaign. Far and away he did better then any other statewide Dem in Ohio in 2010.

  57. 57
    Ella in New Mexico says:

    I really hope the Tea Party set who managed to bring so many of these asshats to power recognize they’ve been pwned, BIG TIME. In the history of shell games, this has to be the greatest pull-the-wool-over-their-eyes con job any sociopaths have EVER managed to pull off on this many suckers. It’s pure evil genius! I mean, really, did those folks at the rallies in their Tri-corner hats know that the guns they were swinging around on their hips were soon to be turned on THEM?

    Got a Social Security pension? Worked for a union-backed industry? Ever had a miscarriage?—YOU’RE ALL CRIMINALS OF THE STATE NOW, AND IT’S FUCKING OPEN SEASON

    There never really was any intent to just “balance the accounting books” on the part of 99% of these elected Republicans—it was all a hoax to get these simple-minded Teatards to fund their coup d’etat. And man, they are EVERYWHERE, fast tracking their mayhem and chaos before anyone watching the teevee has a chance to go “Whadtha fuck?”

    Why do I get the feeling that this election was REALLY the breaking of The Final Seal before a door to Hell opened and allowed Lucifer’s Demon Zombies out to wreak havoc nationwide?

    It’s like it’s the frigging American Apocalypse.

  58. 58
    kgc16 says:

    @NR: Well, how’d that work out for them? Are we all so apathetic that we have to be “inspired” to vote against the Republicans? I understand the frustration a lot of Dem voters had with Obama and the Democrats in Congress, but I agreed with John Cole at the time: I would’ve crawled over broken glass to vote. It was that important. I didn’t have to wait for inspiration from my own side to know I didn’t want Republicans in control of the U.S. House, or John Kasich for governor of Ohio. In the end we have to take responsibility for ourselves.

  59. 59
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @General Stuck: Hybrid tumbrels, also.

  60. 60
    bemused says:

    Hilarious. If I ever have a conversation with a conservative on this topic, I’m definitely using that even if he/she probably won’t get it.

  61. 61

    All that would probably apply if (D) turn out was down. Polling showed it wasn’t, it is a “punch a hippie” bullshit narrative. What happened was the usual in mid-terms, the motivated base pulled it out by taking the few (I)s that showed.

    That can happen for either Party. Does it mean the loser didn’t offer the voters enough of interest is another question. (or offended them enough – see 2006)

  62. 62
    horse dave says:

    @RosiesDad: I agree and probably sooner than anyone expects.

  63. 63

    To buttress Cole’s point; a few years ago the DPO (Dem OR) passed out polling that used generic terms that would cover policy issues and broke them down by CDs. Even the RED OR2 responses would cover the more liberal policies that fail reliably. It seems people are nicer than their politics.

    Something to reflect on.

  64. 64
    cokane says:

    @NR: i disagree with this analysis, especially in the case of Ohio. Strickland did a fair job as governor. Obama and cong-dems passed stimulus n health reform before the election. The choice was really between center and hard right. Of course another way to form it was a choice between pragmatic competence on one hand and ideologues and incompetence on the other. Kasich was a terrible gov. candidate and ran a pretty shitty campaign. As someone else noted, Lee Fisher didn’t even fucking try which may have cost us some down-ticket races.

    Keep in mind, in Ohio, the Repubs swept everything. They took the state house (they already had state senate), they won every single executive office race, and they won back every single national congressional race. Some of it is the fault of some blue-dog type dems in the state, and Fisher, but ultimately, lower income and lower education voters are the groups that didn’t turn out. And this is because they just don’t understand the impact the 2010 election had. It’s a redistricting election too, and Repubs in Ohio control everything. It’s important to remember that most Americans do not follow politics to the extent that you might. Polling of just registered voters has shown high levels of ignorance, with huge numbers not being able to name their own governor, the vice president, or the speaker of the house, which is pretty basic information.

  65. 65
    Elia says:

    Most of our media is owned by, like, 5 corporations.

    “Network” becomes more prophetic every day.

  66. 66
    piratedan says:

    well the scary thing is, the standard mom and dad american family is still most likely to have both mom and dad working and if they have any kids with any activities, that means that whatever news that they pick up is likely still confined to the 10 o’clock news unless they also happen to be a news junkie and surf the net fairly often. So where they pick up their news is kind of important.

    The fourth estate used to take itself out of the story and simply report the events and the arguements somewhat evenhandedly, no more. The MSM used to report the news, now they are more than likely to poll the news and find out what interests people on a local level and shape what news people see rather than provide a breakdown on what are the “most important” stories of the day. Huge difference and naturally, with political ads flooding the marketplace, those that have the most money have the best chance of getting their message out.

  67. 67
    James E Powell says:


    Pardon my sweeping generalization, but for a large chunk of the American electorate, I have a hard time feeling sorry for them because they complain so much but do almost nothing to help themselves.

    One doesn’t need tons of time or B.A. in political science to be reasonably informed and to make reasonable inferences.

    But I guess voting (or not voting) based on ignorance and bigotry is working out so well that it would be a waste of time to do anything different.

    People who live in a democracy ought not to blame “leaders” when one party carries on a thirty year long, uninterrupted, campaign to destroy social services and use the government to enrich the already rich.

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