As John Fund said in a column on National Review Online Feb. 4, “The country may be catching on: Barack Obama is our first knee-jerk liberal president. And now that he will never face the voters again, he doesn’t mind showing it.”
Fund quoted an Obama supporter: “‘There is a deep recognition that he has a short period of time to get a lot done,’ says Jennifer Psaki, Obama’s 2012 campaign spokeswoman.”
So, Fund added, “… the moderate mask is slipping. In his second Inaugural Address, he gave a full-throated defense of the entitlement state and made no mention of reforming Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security before they go bust.”
Fund notes that Obama is entitled, by virtue of his re-election, to pursue any programs he wishes. But he added that, while in the past “Obama has consistently cloaked his beliefs and associations, aided by a compliant media that have abetted and adored him every step of his career,” now that he has “become more forthright about who he is, we can fight the ideological battle over his ideas in earnest. Let’s hope that he now displays more honesty and clarity about his beliefs than he treated the American people to during his two presidential campaigns.”
BY WAY OF UNDERSTANDING how best to conduct that “ideological battle,” it’s fair to ask how popular his renewed push for the aggrandizement of government power might fare with the nation at large.
It’s long been a truism of our national political life that “Americans love their country and hate their government.”
It’s probably true that “hate” was too strong a word for the emotion that gave rise to the expression holding that chief among the “Four Biggest Lies” of fame and fable was, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”
However, according to a couple of recent national polls, “distrust,” “dysfunctional” and “threatening” are three words that people are willing to apply to the federal government right now.
The polls in question were conducted last month by Gallup and Pew, two of the country’s largest firms and ones that ask the same questions over a period of decades, to gauge how opinion shifts over time.
The Gallup poll, released Jan. 14, asked people, “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?”
The question was “open-ended” — that is, respondents were not given a list of possible answers and instead offered unprompted answers.
The four top answers, far ahead of any others, were “economy in general” at 21 percent, “federal budget deficit” at 20 percent, “dissatisfaction with government” at 18 percent and “unemployment” at 16 percent.
Gallup said that the “dissatisfaction” response was “as high as it has been since the Watergate days of 1974,” while the percentage mentioning the deficit as the top problem “is as high as it has been since 1996.”
It’s worth noting that, for issues popular among leftists and the current amount of media attention devoted to them, “guns/gun control” and “poor health care” came in at 4 percent each, and “the environment/global warming” didn’t even make the list, which cut off at the 2 percent level of support.
AND ON JAN. 31, the Pew Research Center published a poll saying “trust in the federal government remains mired near a historic low, while frustration with government remains high.”
In answering the query, “Does the federal government threaten your basic rights and freedoms?” 53 percent answered “yes,” the highest affirmative result to that question since it was first asked in 1995, and the first time a majority had said the government threatened them.
It shouldn’t be surprising that in both polls, differences between Republicans and Democrats were substantial: In the Gallup poll, more “Democrats/Democrat leaners” thought the economy in general was an issue than “Republicans/Republican leaners,” while the deficit got a much higher ranking from Republicans.
The split on “dissatisfaction with government” was closer, with Democrats interestingly rating it higher, 21D-13R. (Is President Obama falling short of Democrats’ expectations, or do Republicans have a lesser view of his capabilities — or both?)
In the Pew poll, 76 percent of “conservative Republicans” (57 percent among “moderate and liberal Republicans”) saw the government as a threat to freedom, up from 62 percent three years ago, while Democrats remained nearly the same at 38 percent.
But the bigger news may be that 55 percent of independents also feel threatened by the feds, up from 50 percent two years ago. The increase may not be huge, but the direction it is trending might be.
People still trust the system, and instead consider the problem to be the people in it (by a 56-32 percent margin), while those who “trust Washington to do the right thing” comes in with a dismal 73 percent saying “some of the time/never.”
Maybe they’re just being realistic.
Anyway, that puts the fuss over Obama’s “most liberal Inaugural Address in history” in some perspective, indicating that there may be less support for his government-expanding priorities than his supporters on the left and in the major media (if that’s not redundant) appear to believe.
OTHER RECENT POLLS also deserve some attention, notably the Gallup survey released Feb. 1 that showed self-identified conservatives at 38 percent of the population and liberals at 23 percent.
Further, it showed conservatives outnumbering liberals in 47 of the 50 states, with only Massachusetts, Oregon and Vermont (and of course the District of Columbia) showing liberal pluralities. Maine showed a 11.3 percent conservative advantage, with the general national distribution typically paralleling election results.
Which of course raises the question: Why do so many states with conservative pluralities, including our own, so often vote “blue” in both national and state elections?
That question gains even more salience when placed alongside a recently major Rasmussen poll released in November on American attitudes toward socialism.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that Democratic respondents split evenly, 45-45, on a “favorable-unfavorable” question, but it remains “a strikingly high level of support for socialist ideology within a political party in the United States (and the ruling party at that),” according to Nile Gardiner, a blogger for the Daily Telegraph of London.
Gardiner says this “strongly suggests that Democrats are increasingly moving towards a continental-European style approach to economic issues, advancing a big-government agenda that resembles that of European Social Democratic governments.”
That’s hardly a surprise to conservatives on this side of the pond, but the poll also showed most non-Democrats don’t agree. Just 24 percent of all Americans said they had a favorable view of socialism, while 67 percent said their view was “unfavorable.”
Sixty-eight percent, meanwhile, have a favorable view of capitalism, while 76 percent favor a “free-market system.”
WHATEVER THIS MEANS in abstract terms, it should tell conservative political operatives and political leaders that there’s room for growth in support for people who put forth policies that are specifically aimed at — and openly backed — as “free-market” solutions to our economic problems.
Perhaps the problem in blue states with conservative-identifying electorates is that conservative policies either don’t get labeled as such — or don’t get backed strongly enough by “moderates” who control state parties and kick conservative candidates and viewpoints to the curb.
Which wouldn’t seem to be a winning policy. But could we see any examples of it (say, passage of right-to-work laws, or an open attitude toward charter schools, or a rejection of the false idea that we can tax or borrow our way to prosperity) close at hand?
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org.