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16 Oct 2010 16:26
It stands in the Arizona desert, a sprawling conurbation in search of an environmental impact assessment.
In the past 20 years Tucson’s population has grown by 27%, as thousands have come looking for land, work and retirement.
The two major demographic forces here for more than a generation have been those who came to restart their lives and those who came to die.
The desert became a blank canvas for new building as coachloads of speculators drove in from California to grab a piece of the real-estate action.
When economic gravity intervened, parts of the country fell hard. House prices in Tucson are down to 20 04 levels. Since foreclosures in the state account for almost half of all home sales they have much further to fall.
A state that was never very wealthy now has the second-highest poverty rate in the country. One in five are poor: roughly the same proportion have no health insurance.
When the CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli became the first to call for a “tea party” to prevent the government bailing out “losers’ mortgages” in February last year, these were the kind of losers he was referring to—those who signed on the dotted line when the good times stopped rolling.
“This is America!” Santelli yelled from the floor of the Chicago stock exchange. “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbour’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay the bills?” The traders booed.
The only thing more stunning than the contempt that Republicans in general, and the Tea Party in particular, have shown for working and middle-class Americans in this crisis is the tendency of the same Americans to back them.
Policies pushed to fantasy
Polling shows that if anything, Americans want to do more about poverty, the elderly and bad education. But the Democrats’ failure to deliver sufficiently has provided fertile ground for cynicism to grow—and this has pushed policy and rhetoric into the realms of fantasy, calumny and idiocy.
The Republican Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, is opposed to a stimulus Bill that is weatherising homes for the poor and putting solar panels on government buildings—creating work for thousands of people in a state that has lost 271 400 jobs since the recession.
Nine out of 10 dollars of the stimulus package, about $443-million, remain unspent.
Asked for her opening statement in a televised debate, Brewer stopped halfway through, stared blankly into the camera and started giggling. Yet she holds a double-digit lead over her Democratic challenger.
In West Virginia the Republicans were recently exposed as having put out a call for actors with a “‘hicky’ blue-collar look” who could appear in an ad as “coal-miner/trucker types” trashing Democrat Joe Manchin over his affiliation with Obama.
Manchin, one of the most popular governors, is trailing his Republican opponent by three to five points.
Basic, verifiable facts have ceased to matter. That and polarised media, where people access the truth they seek, has given rise to bespoke realities: people don’t just think different things, they know different things.
And some things they think they know are just wrong. If Obama can persuade only a third of Americans that he is a Christian and less than half that he was born in the United States, he has little chance of convincing them about his plans for healthcare or revitalising the economy.
A short drive from Tucson, Jesse Kelly, the Tea Party’s Republican candidate for Arizona’s 8th district, takes his place in the Vail town parade.
With less than a month before the midterm elections, he is locked in a battle with Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who supported healthcare reform, the stimulus Bill and carbon trading—all Republican bugbears.
From a Democratic perspective the closeness of the contest—the respected Nate Silver gives Giffords a 51,7% edge—offers some solace.
The district voted for George Bush in 20 00 and 20 04 and John McCain in 2008 and had a Republican congressman until 20 06, when the Democrats took the seat.
That year was hailed as a landslide for Democrats. If this is also going be a landslide, the Republicans should have sewn up the district by now.
Seats under threat
So, while large numbers of Democratic seats are under threat, Republicans have put fewer beyond doubt by this stage than they had hoped.
The more enduring conundrum, however, is why Kelly is doing as well as he is. Giffords is a good candidate with strong financial backing.
When Tea Party supporters talk about “taking our country back” they are, in part, expressing nostalgia. Their ideal is a past when people had secure jobs and a couple on a middle-class wage could reasonably expect their children to have a better life than theirs.
Logically, their frustration at the Democrats’ inability to deliver on their promises should be eclipsed by their fear that the Republicans will manage to deliver on theirs.
No wonder they’re so angry. They keep treading on their own toes.—
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