The politics of impatience

On Inauguration Day 2009, spirited crowds in Washington, D.C., cheered President Obama as if he were a rock star with a hit song. He was the new feel-good leader of the free world and a walking, smiling Rorschach test. Fill in the blanks with your hopes and dreams.

I remember watching the extravaganza on TV and feeling very uncomfortable. Aren't we putting a little too much on a single individual? Aren't off-the-chart expectations illogical with the Great Recession stretching out in front of us?

Now two years later, that whole Obama craze seems so far removed.

Ours are the politics of impatience. For Obama, it took less than seven months, amid all that chatter about health-care reform, and many people turned against him. This was not a case of people veering slightly away from his ideas; these were dramatic half-pirouettes. Those miserable yell-fests known as health-care town-hall meetings began the president's downward spiral.

What is it about us that we do not have a year or two to give a new president to make his mark? Voters in large numbers gave up on Obama's promise rapidly and now hope the Republicans, who won 60 new seats in the House, will deliver something. Deficit reduction. Yeah, that sounds pretty amazing until you realize tax cuts could have the opposite effect.

Every part of our lives moves quicker. Look at the pacing on films and compare it to the classics. Consider the Twitter and texting of instant communications. Starbucks spent years schooling us in the virtues of carefully roasted and ground, fine drip or espresso coffee, only to start teaching us anew about the wonders of instant coffee.

Tuesday, Republicans whooshed into office, a resounding slam on Democrats who tromped in one and two cycles earlier. Everybody knows change is the single most powerful message in politics, especially in an economic downturn. No, not Door No. 1, Door No. 2.

The explanation for so much vacillating among swing or independent voters is simple: A person without a job who has a bill with a nasty due date or looming home foreclosure doesn't have time to wait for a longterm economic vision to take hold.

A wise man I know blamed our collective impatience on the Microwave Generation. People who contemplate whether to cook something for 40 seconds or 60 seconds do not have time for slow-simmering results.

Washington state's congressional delegation looks like it may flip from majority Democrat to majority Republican, depending on the final outcome in that squeaker Larsen-Koster race in the 2nd District.

After gazillions of dollars were spent on ads trashing the stimulus plan and bailouts, many voters think stimulus was a bust. Not exactly. It created real jobs. Many people think the bailouts were wasted cash, but not all the money was expended and much has been paid back.

Nostalgia for a slower time brings us to the midterm elections of 1934. The crash of 1929 boosted Franklin Roosevelt's election as president in 1932. By the 1934 midterms, he was expected to fare poorly.

"Most political analysts had predicted a loss for the Democrats; Democratic optimists said that the losses might be small or the party might break even," writes David Woolner on the New Deal 2.0 website. "Few predicted that the party would actually gain seats, rising from 313 to 322 in the House and from 59 to 69 in the Senate, giving the Democrats in the latter body the widest margin ever held in the history of the Republic."

In other words, at the depths of the Great Depression, with unemployment and other conditions far more devastating than today, people were willing to let new ideas for boosting the economy slow cook a couple of years.

We're not like that anymore. Republicans have taken over the House, but voters' attention spans remain just as short. Move quickly to get the economy rolling. If voters are feeling generous, or exhausted, they will give you a New York minute to produce results.