Do you trust the federal government? If you’re anything like me, your answer is, “It depends.” According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, such a response would put you in the minority, or at least amongst the most positive of Americans. With only 22 percent of those surveyed saying they can trust the federal government “always or most of the time,” distrust in government appears to have become as American as apple pie.
Though I doubt it, you may be surprised by these results. Personally, as I read the headlines, my only surprise is that the poll results are actually headlines. With the national unemployment rate around 10 percent, a huge federal debt looming over our collective heads, continuing effects of the big-bank bailout swirling about, and a party-line split that’s stalled any meaningful debate in Congress, is there any wonder? Nobody needed a poll to tell them that our government is broken, and taxpayers are fed up with it.
According to Pew, 56 percent of us are frustrated with the federal government. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m certainly in that group. Interestingly, this number is at roughly the same level it was in 1997, but something else has changed quite significantly — the number of Americans who are “angry.” Of course, the complete disregard for the American people evidenced by Congress is part of the problem; with both parties working diligently to repay their debts to their big-money contributors, some anger is bound to ensue . . . but an increase from 8 percent in 2001 to the current 21 percent?
Something is at work beyond a normal souring of public opinion, even that which occurs in a recession. Along with the drastic increase in anger, the Pew Poll revealed a whopping 47 percent of Americans who believe the federal government to be a threat to their personal rights and freedom. The poll also shows increasing support for smaller government, a negative opinion of the national news media, and a desire for reduced regulation. If these tenets sound at all familiar to you, there’s good reason: this is Tea Party 101, and it’s rapidly becoming the central theme of Republicans in general.
Only in politics, can you preach that the organization you represent is completely ineffective and then leverage that sentiment to promote doing nothing about it. It’s crazy, but it’s exactly what the Republicans have been doing ever since President Obama took office. Their message is not only that the federal government is absurdly inefficient and completely incapable of productive activity, but that it also threatens the very principles of our founding. Using whatever heated rhetoric they deem needed, the Republicans are beating hard on the anti-government drum, and their efforts are reflected in the polling.
Asked for their preference between bigger government with more services, and smaller government with fewer services, the percentage of Americans who want smaller government has been increasing steadily since the 2008 election. During this period, demand for smaller government climbed from 42 to 50 percent. Can it be that this is just coincidence? Couple this trend with the 14 percent drop, from 54 percent in support of government control of the economy in March 2009 to just 40 percent this April, and it sure becomes difficult to separate these changes in opinion from the relentless barrage of anti-government rhetoric spewing from the Republican leadership.
These are the same Republicans who were at the front of the line calling for bailouts when the banks crashed, yet as soon as the conversation turned to providing services for average Americans, their banter changed. Overnight, they went from support of big-government to a mind-numbing campaign to ridicule anything the Democrats propose. The facts suggest that Republicans in Congress are in favor of big government, but only when it serves the wealthy. Somehow, they position themselves as the patriotic party, yet their patriotism is little more than a veneer over their undying devotion to big business. The truly amazing aspect of this duplicity is that loyal, hard-working Americans actually buy into the lie against their own best interest.
Of course, as pointed out by Dave Johnson on his “Seeing the Forest” blog, the Republican agenda is ardently supported through a “well-funded anti-government” effort. If Fox News didn’t create the Tea Party, they certainly funded its media promotion. Together, in spite of the fact that too little government is what caused our current recession, this “patriotic” duo has successfully waged a campaign of fear to convince voters that they’ll benefit from less government.
As the Pew Poll indicates, the Fox, Tea Party, Republican triad has been successful thus far. They’ve managed to distort the truth, instill fear of government, and somehow sell the notion that by doing nothing, they’re actually helping the average American. Don’t you believe it. The federal government was established to “promote the general Welfare.” It was designed to protect the citizenry from both foreign enemies and the unbridled power of the rich. The federal government belongs to YOU and me. It exists to serve The People, but it’s presently broken, and it won’t get repaired by doing nothing. So, the next time some politician tells you how inefficient it is, don’t let him off the hook — demand that he tell you how he’s going to fix it.
The entire Pew Research Center poll is available here.