Mark Tapscott takes a look at the incredibly low ratings given to all branches of government and sees a crisis in public confidence in the political class. The recent Gallup poll reveals that the American people only have 14% confidence in Congress and their approval rating is only 24%. Every government institution except the military has been given a vote of no-confidence by the American public. Tapscott has a theory as to why:
The opposition to the Bush/Kennedy/McCain immigration reform appears to be hardening, too, as indicated by this UPI/Zogby International survey that finds only three percent – three percent! – of those surveyed approve of the way Congress is handling the issue. Bush gets only a nine percent approval rating on the issue in the survey, which has a 1.1 percent margin of error.
This is why there is no evidence of increasing public support for the GOP in recent weeks despite the failling ratings of the Democratic majority in Congress. The root problem is a bipartisan inability – or refusal – to adopt policies supported by clear majorities of the American people.
Those policies for the most part involve a significantly lower level of government activism, whereas the political class for the most part seeks only a higher level because it benefits, financially and otherwise, from the higher taxes, greater federal spending and heightened importance of public institutions.
I think that analysis is right. The crisis in confidence in government isn’t a partisan issue — Democrats want to frame it as being opposition to the war, Republicans want to frame it as opposition to Democrats, but the reality is that it is opposition to a political system that has gone off the rails. The Democrats in Congress have taken the abysmal ratings of the Republicans and managed to lower them, while the Republicans have yet to offer anything resembling a coherent alternative. This is a bipartisan failure, and the same old partisan solutions just aren’t going to cut it.
The question is how this may effect American politics. John Podhoretz suggests that it could signal more frequent changes in political control. That’s certainly not to be discounted, but it would be something we’ve never really seen in American politics. Nor am I certain such an outcome would be good — that might erase partisan lines, but I doubt that it would do much to change the sort of back-room dealmaking that’s the longstanding tradition of Washington politics.
What I hope this will do is spring the country into a reformist mindset. Our problem is that we have a government that grows and grows and grows and demands more and more power. Even the left is taking the anti-government side (which would certainly change if a Democrat were elected in 2008) — there is a wide cross-partisan belief that government is too big, too greedy, and too powerful.
The problems with American democracy are structural — politicians are doing what politicians always do, and that is do whatever it takes to get elected — even if it means skirting the law. The only fix for this problem is to limit the size and scope of government so that there are fewer cookie jars for politicians to get their grubby little mitts into. Libertarians and conservatives don’t have much problem with that, but the liberals generally want more and more government. It’s hard to reconcile a general distrust of government with a party that wants to centralize healthcare into another government agency.
As a conservative, this mistrust of government is welcome news. The problem is that as a Republican, it isn’t. The way forward for the GOP is to regain their core convictions and stand with the American people against an ever-growing government. However, the current GOP leadership doesn’t seem at all interested in doing this.
If the GOP could get their values back, 2008 could be a bloodbath for the Democrats in the way that 2006 was for the Republicans. People are sick and tired of a dysfunctional government, and they want something better. The Republicans have to show them that big government isn’t the only way to go, but that requires a commitment to less spending, less government, and an end to the comfortable culture of entrenched power that ended the Gingrich revolution after 12 years.
American government stands at a crossroads — and partisan bickering won’t solve the nation’s problems. The American people are rightly sick and tired of it all, and if the GOP can’t provide an acceptable alternative, someone else will.