Why do people vote against their best interests? It’s a question that has been analyzed and debated quite a bit in recent years. In his book What’s the Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank does a pretty good job of laying out an argument that when push comes to shove, hot-button social issues such as abortion, school prayer, perceived attacks on Christianity and the general debasing of society by the “other” (minorities, immigrants, Hollywood, etc.) play a stronger role in political identification than we previously thought, and can often trump rational economic issues. I think he makes some important points, but that there are additional factors related to this conundrum.
Our Republican-led Congress let the unemployment benefit extension expire just before Christmas, affecting 1.3 million Americans. This benefit can still be restored, but it’s questionable whether it will be. Mother Jones puts a human face on this critical situation with stories from several people who are experiencing drastic financial hardships as a result of this draconian political decision. It’s a damn shame that in 2014 we have to remind people of this, but the clear point of this article is to show that the Americans who will suffer are not simply welfare cheating minorities as Republicans would have you believe, but hardworking, educated white people who, before they lost their jobs, had been contributing members of society.
How many of these people — not just those highlighted in the article, but those millions of Americans who have very similar stories — will vote for Republicans in the next election? Some, perhaps many, will. This is the great disconnect. This is the dilemma of our times. For a variety of reasons, some good and some very bad, voters cannot make the connection between their financial woes and those who are directly responsible for that situation. Along with the conservative propensity to cloud people’s reasoning by emphasizing emotional social issues, the media plays a large part in this drama with its “A pox on both their houses” reporting that refuses to lay blame where blame is due, afraid that if it does it will lose viewers.
Democratic candidates in 2014 and 2016 need to hammer home the point that the financial misery experienced by millions of Americans is the direct result of the actions, and inaction, of the Republican-led Congress. They held this country hostage by shutting down the government this past year, and now they are destroying lives by withholding needed financial help from people who want nothing more than to pay their bills and feed their families. It’s time to hold the Republican party accountable.