Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Big Switch

IN an interview in the National Journal, election handicapper and observer Charlie Cook was asked the following question and answer.
NJ: Many polls have shown that people trust themselves more than they trust the government to improve their lives. Do you think this sentiment is at an unprecedented level?

Cook: I think Americans, by their nature, are distrustful of "big" -- whether it's big government or big labor, we're distrustful of "big." And it does go in cycles. And at the time of Barack Obama's election to the presidency, when you asked the age-old polling question, "Do you think the government should do more to address people's problems, or do you think government is trying to take on too many things?" It wasn't an overwhelming majority, but it was a majority who thought the government should do more.

But those numbers are reversed. More than reversed. And I think probably TARP, which happened before President Obama took office, but TARP followed by some of the bailouts, the takeovers, the stimulus package.... And then the scope and size and some of the fear that came out of cap-and-trade and health care, it just sort of built and built and built up.

But the thing is I think people do have a natural skepticism of what government is capable of doing and they had seen the reach of government expand enormously since Labor Day of 2008. And I also think, though, that the need for that was probably not well articulated, either by President Bush in the old regime, or by President Obama. I think there was probably a fear of alarming an already terrified American people.
I think Cook is right that Americans as a whole are distrustful of "big" that they cannot easily affect.

But Cook's response got me thinking, A year ago, the question of whether government should be doing more was answered largely in the affirmative by many people. But a year after the election, it looks like that is no longer the case. Of course, the electorate can be quite fickle, but is this the biggest switch in political outlook (and the fastest) that we have seen?

Is America becoming more unstable politically? I don't mean that we are going to have multiple political parties and a massive splintering of political outlooks, but are we in an age where because we are not sure what we want we swing too wildly from side to side?

Do we as Americans have the political temprament of a child?


Darren said...

It's not unstable. People bought a pig in a poke, and now they've thought better of it and returned to a more sober assessment. Nothing more difficult to understand than that.

Matt Johnston said...

I am not sure it is just about buyer's remorse with Obama (although certainly that has a significant role to play). But on the other hand the rise of the Tea Party movement seems to indicate that people are not exactly enamored of anyone in Washington. The may create a bit of instability, at least until America grows more comfortable with government again.