Alter, Jonathan, Newsweek
Byline: Jonathan Alter
Voter beliefs and actions are at odds.
With Wall Street reform added to health care, President Obama is now two-for-two on his major domestic initiatives. If you include big bills expanding college loans and cracking down on credit-card companies (further strengthened in the new Dodd-Frank financial legislation), he's four-for-four. Throw in the Recovery Act, which included more public investment than even Franklin Roosevelt managed in his first year, and a half dozen other meaty bills and you've got a legislative record that's already historic. Oh, and Obama (with Ben Bernanke) prevented another Great Depression, then got almost all the bailout money back.
But no good deed goes unpunished, and the GOP seems headed for a takeover of the House of Representatives in November. (The Senate is out of reach.) When Robert Gibbs said last week the GOP might seize the House, Nancy Pelosi was furious; she thought Gibbs's comment will hurt fundraising. Gibbs was right to say it. Raising the stakes concentrates the mind on the cognitive dissonance of the American voter--and on Obama's own failure to get his act together politically.
Cognitive dissonance is the anxiety caused by an inconsistency between one's beliefs and actions. The beliefs of American voters are clear: they overwhelmingly favor more regulation of Wall Street, which means they simply won't support the repeal of Dodd-Frank that House Minority Leader John Boehner called for before the ink was even dry on the new law. They strongly support the extension of unemployment benefits, now being blocked by Boehner & Co. More than 60 percent, according to a recent Bloomberg survey, oppose Boehner's idea of repealing health-care reform. And you can practically count on one hand the number who agree with Boehner's main man on energy, Joe Barton, that making BP pay to clean up the oil spill and compensate gulf locals was a "shakedown."
So why are so many of these same voters poised to make Boehner the House speaker? Because they aren't rationally aligning belief and action; they're tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences. With 10 percent unemployment and credit still tight, it's understandable why they aren't as cool, calm, and collected as the president. They don't see the changes yet in their own lives. …