The much-misunderstood—sometimes maligned—American people might well get a second look, thanks to the new poll released the Gallup organization. Oh, it’s not that all the people make political observers uncomfortable. Pundits and pollsters love the people in the abstract and always pay homage to their noblest yearnings.
It’s the people in the flesh (or in their coonskin caps) they find troubling. This is why—at least on the cable news shows—the most respected columnists and commentators have never been able to make much sense of tea party types.
They Trust Some Government
The professoriate of the Sunday morning talk shows is convinced, for example, that people outside the Washington beltway are deeply embittered by government, which they “hate” and want less of. (They also, as the President in an unguarded moment once put it, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”)
Well, maybe there is some of that, but the Gallup findings suggest a picture so different it ought to spark a reassessment. Here’s what Gallup found: At a time when trust in government institutions is at what seems to be an all-time low, Americans by and large have a great deal of confidence in government. It just depends on the level of government. Fully 68 percent of Americans say they actually trust their local government, and 57 percent trust their state government.
What they don’t trust is a federal government which tries to do too much and, as a result, does a pretty bad job at almost everything it attempts. That explains the people’s lack of confidence in Congress and the White House, and their mounting impatience with both. But there’s little evidence they “hate” either. When the flag is raised, they stand: Always have, always will.
The Federal Apparatus
That doesn’t mean, however, that the American people regard the federal apparatus as it is now constituted to be efficient and effective, or that they get what they pay for in taxes.
If, as Gallup speculates, the people think state and local governments could take “more control from Washington [in areas] such as education, health and human services, transportation, environmental regulations, and crime control,” it’s not because they want these functions performed badly; it’s because they want these jobs done well.
When’s the last time you ever heard anyone complain that their city buses don’t break down nearly enough? That their public schools turn out too many kids who can read? That the police don’t let enough bank robbers get away?
Who Wants ‘Weak’ Government?
The American people don’t “hate” government, and they don’t want it weak. They understand its role, but where they want it involved, they want it strong. Not tyrannical, by any means, but certainly able to do what it sets out to do.
And that might mean leaving a lot of those tasks to someone else, such as states and local governments, or even—imagine that!—to the people themselves.
They are more capable of self-governance than the “Washington Week in Review” crowd seems to think. And they are certainly more nuanced in their views of government than those who observe them from on high can imagine.
The next time the punditocracy goes snooping around for signs of prejudice, it should look in the mirror.