Washington doesn’t get it.
The news programs for the past few weeks have been talking about the “Political Earthquake” signaled by the latest primary elections. Tea Party candidates have won a few surprising races, and the media isn’t sure how to explain it.
They’re labeling it a new Tea Party resurgence, harbinger of a new Republican groundswell in preparation for the 2014 election. They also call it an anti-immigration event, and an unprecedented new populism.
Some call it a backlash against Hillary Clinton’s recent domination of the news. Others try to describe it as mere dissatisfaction with Obamacare and other Administration policies.
One expert correctly called this a major national “realignment of the parties.”
But nearly all media outlets and commentators emphasize this in partisan terms — what it says about Republicans, Democrats, and their upcoming contests with each other at the ballot box. This is a fundamental misreading of what’s actually happening.
What’s going on right now in the American electorate is deeper than any of these explanations.
Americans mistrust Washington, and they mistrust politicians. They don’t think any party really cares about them, personally, and they don’t think any big institutions — government or private — are doing very much to actually help them or their families.
Moreover, a lot of American families are struggling. Jobs are scarce and pay less than they did four years ago. Standards of living have been cut, and even those who haven’t significantly reduced their lifestyles are keeping a close eye on the economy — just in case. Anxiety is increasing. Most Americans are wary about the future of the economy.
And they are frustrated with the way politicians and officials from both parties are handling things. Hardly anyone thinks that either party or their leaders is really looking out for the regular people right now.
“They’re all in it for themselves” is a familiar refrain around America. A year ago it was: “Why can’t they just get along and get something done? What’s wrong with them?”
But that view is long past. Now, it’s turned to a street-smart realism: “They’re in it for them, not for us.”
That’s how most people now see their leaders — from all parties, and at all levels. If a few people do still have hope in a candidate or official, it’s almost always at the city or county level. Never the state. And the idea of hope from a national-level leader is…gone.
It’s surprising how many people touch base with the news multiple times a day across the nation — they hear it as they drive, in barbershops, in their office. In pawnshops and small stores, pretty much any business that is still run by a single owner or family. Big businesses play something else on the airwaves — small businesses usually have C-Span or Fox News or MSNBC running in the background.
Talk to the people who spend hours in such places, with the news running non-stop, and they tell the same stories — “Washington’s a mess,” “Those guys can’t get it together,” “What about the little guy?” And, inevitably, now more than ever, “Politicians are just in it for themselves.”
It’s more than cynicism now. This common wisdom is considered obvious. Ubiquitous. Inexorable.
But it’s more than this. The conversation often turns to the next election, and the focus is on throwing the current people out. It’s not a Republican revolution, it’s just a revolution. It wants to throw out Republicans and Democrats.
In fact, the word “Republicrats” comes up in a lot of conversations. Listen for it, and you’ll be surprised at how often it occurs. “They’re all the same. We need new leadership.”
In 2010 we witnessed an historic midterm election that swung in the direction of Republicans. We’ll probably see the same thing in 2014 — but for a different reason. This time it will be about the regular people fighting back in the only way they know how, the only way they can, by displacing current leaders and putting in someone new. “New” will be more important than party.
And since Democrats control the White House, “new” will mean more Republicans in office. But if leaders of either party misread this — the way the current media is misreading it — as an anti-Democrat wave, they’ll misunderstand the dynamic.
The American people are tired of big government, more oppressive regulation, a struggling economy. The irony is that nobody wants to give up any of his or her government benefits or programs — but they want the government to give less to other people.
We’re witnessing the early stages of a new populism, one that began with Tea Parties and Occupiers and may continue to grow and swell to major power in the decade ahead. Those supporting Tea Party candidates and Republicans over Democrats aren’t doing so because they like the Republican Establishment.
It’s actually the opposite. They’re stepping up for freedom, not for the Republican Party. And it appears that this populist wave is just beginning. Fifteen years from now we may look back and say it was the biggest thing to happen in American politics for decades.
When the media or current officials from both parties explain what is happening in partisan terms, they almost always miss what’s really going on. Something big is happening, and elections are going to continue to surprise anyone who doesn’t realize that American voters are increasingly numb to politicians, parties, and campaigns.
They want real change, and they’re going to vote for it — something the establishment’s current methods can’t foresee and its experts won’t predict.
But it’s happening…
Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.
Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.