From merely big to really big

During President Obama’s media blitz last weekend, he appeared somewhat baffled as to why the country isn’t doing excited back flips over his health care reform plan.

On ABC’s “This Week,” he told George Stephanopoulos, “I think there have been times where I have said I’ve got to step up my game in terms of talking to the American people about issues like health care.”

When Mr. Stephanopoulos asked whether he had “lost control” of the debate, Mr. Obama replied, “Well, not so much lost control, but where I’ve said to myself, somehow I’m not breaking through.”

If Mr. Obama seeks enlightenment as to why his health care initiative is sinking along with his job approval numbers, he need only look at the results of a little-noticed Gallup poll released this week.

Every September since 2001, Gallup has polled on a series of questions related to the size and activism of government. The results from this September indicate widespread disapproval of large-scale government intervention. As Gallup notes, Americans are much more likely than in the past to believe that government is taking on too much responsibility for solving the nation’s problems and is overregulating business.

“New Gallup data show that 57 percent of Americans say the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals,” Gallup reports, “and 45 percent say there is too much government regulation of business. Both reflect the highest such readings in more than a decade.”

Given the economic upheaval of the past year, it is striking that Americans are more likely to say there is too much regulation, particularly when Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress are arguing for even more regulation. As Gallup puts it, “the average American is less appreciative of increased government control over business during the past year, rather than more so.”

Americans’ discomfort with the Obama administration’s level of economic intervention did not just materialize out of thin air. When he was inaugurated president, Mr. Obama enjoyed over 70 percent approval along with the hopes of most Americans that he could turn the economy around.

Indeed, he was elected in large part on his self-proclaimed ability to “fix” the economy. Sen. John McCain was running a few points ahead of him in the polls until mid-September 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed, sending the financial sector into a near-death spiral. Panic set in, and Mr. Obama exploited it. He actively suggested that he was the only one who could repair the economic mess the Republicans were leaving behind. He was the only one who was going to assemble a group of Wise Minds, such as former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker and investor Warren Buffett, to advise him. He was the only one who understood how deep and vast the problems were. He was the only one whom voters could trust to get the economy going again.

Those arguments convinced enough people to swing from Mr. McCain to Mr. Obama, despite reservations they may have had about his inexperience and liberal record. To those decisive voters, it was the economy, stupid. And now, Mr. Obama is screwing up the very economy he promised to fix.

The 57 percent of Americans who believe that government is trying to do too many things better left to the free market see only big-government activism.

They see nearly $1 trillion in political payouts dressed up as an economic “stimulus.” As this newspaper reported this week, stimulus spending is highly erratic, raising questions about how the money is being spent.

They see hundreds of billions of dollars spent in bailouts of the financial, automobile, mortgage and insurance industries; yet many businesses in these industries are going under anyway.

They see a $3.5 trillion annual budget.

They see $3 billion for a grossly mismanaged Cash for Clunkers program.

They see $500 billion in omnibus spending.

They see a possible $1 trillion government takeover of health care.

They see a cap-and-trade bill which, according to Mr. Obama’s own Treasury Department, could cost families $1,761 a year.

They see the Wise Minds, Mr. Volcker and Mr. Buffett, on the sidelines, while more than three dozen “czars” expand government further.

And they see a 9.7 percent unemployment rate, with many states posting double digit unemployment, and the household unemployment rate standing at nearly 17 percent.

All of this spending will result in a doubling of the national debt in five years and a near quadrupling of it in 10 years. Deep national indebtedness doesn’t sit well with most Americans. Neither does this kind of epic government intervention - particularly when it seems to be retarding job creation and economic growth rather than stimulating them.

Americans want to remain free politically and economically. And yet, to paraphrase Jean-Jacques Rousseau, everywhere they are in chains.

The historically high percentage of Americans disapproving of large-scale government economic activism means trouble for Mr. Obama’s plan for health care and cap-and-trade. It also means flashing, red warning lights for Democrats running for election this year and next. The depth and breadth of the discontent can be seen in the massive marches, tea parties and town halls.

Americans see that this isn’t about merely big government. If the 2008 election were a repudiation of the Republicans’ brand of big government, then the 2010 and perhaps 2012 elections might repudiate Mr. Obama’s brand of really big government

Monica Crowley is a nationally syndicated radio host, a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a Fox News contributor.

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