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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Pschyzophrenic Electorate

Right now, the President's approval ratings are in the twenties, and yet those approval ratings dwarf that of Congress. The cynicism that the electorate has toward our government at all levels is at shocking levels. Everything from our failures at Katrina, health care, education, energy independence show the government's inability to solve problems. We see government programs like social security and Medicare and Medicaid all near insolvency, and those are yet more examples of government's inability to solve problems.

With that background, one would think that the message of small government conservative in which the government stays out people's lives would resonate. One would think that the message of which the people solve their own problems would be the one that resonates with people. One would think that the politician that now proclaims that they will use government to solve every problem that ills every person would now, more than ever, fall on deaf ears.

Yet, the exact opposite is true. Universal health care is overwhelmingly popular. Bailouts and mortgage regulatory reforms are also overwhelmingly popular. Government spending on jobs also polls well. The idea that Barack Obama could ride to victory on a platform of more government at the exact same time that the folks are most cynical about government seems counter intuitive. Here is a portion of last night's speech.

I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.

Even though, our government has long had a dismal record in all of these matters, his rhetoric that now, suddenly, we will turn it all around resonates. The people look around and see nothing but failure in nearly each and every government program available and yet what they seem to want is more government programs.

In my opinion, the pschyzophrenia comes from the fallacious belief that government has failed in mandates that it should be able to take care of. Rather, the reality is that government is trying to mandate things it has no business providing. Folks look at things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and NCLB and see failed government programs where they should have succeeded. Then, Barack Obama steps in and promises that he will succeed where others fail. In reality, the failure is not in government's execution, but rather in trying to do it at all.

Government should NOT be in the business of providing retirement plans for people. The failure was the idea that the government should mandate retirement for people. The folks largely see Social Security as the right idea though poorly executed. That isn't the problem. The problem is that the idea in general is flawed. As such, the folks, cynical about government, don't see Barack Obama as yet another agent of failed government programs. Rather, they see him as the savior that will fix all the government programs that should work but don't.

Now, more than ever folks should be buying into the idea of a government that stays out of your life and let's you fix your own problems. That's the message of John McCain and yet it isn't the one resonating. The one folks want is the one that promises them that government will solve all their problems. It seems there is a disconnect between the obscene amount of taxes at every level, for every transaction, and often multiple times, and many of the problems we face. Most folks would face no health care crisis if they weren't giving away one third of their income in taxes. Yet, they can't seem to make that connection.

Never before in history has someone been attacked so effectively for being in favor of tax cuts, and at the same time, another candidate has never before so effectively used tax increases to score political points. John McCain is for making tax cuts permanent, while Barack Obama is for raising everything from income taxes, to capital gains taxes, to estate taxes. Yet, it is Barack Obama, not John McCain, whose message is resonating. Folks look at the price of gas, food, and health care, and demand that government make them less, instead of demanding that government allow them to keep more of what they make so that those food prices, gas prices, and health care costs are less of their total income.

The tragic irony is of course that folks have seen the failure of government programs and become cynical. Yet, their cynicism doesn't demand less government but more. Thus, we have a pschyzophrenic electorate.

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