Conservatives and liberals are acting more and more as if they live on different planets. There was a day when they disagreed on solutions to the problems facing the nation but at least agreed on the problems themselves. That is no longer the case. President Obama and his political allies deny that federal spending is anything like the problem that many believe it to be or that the nation is in the midst of a fiscal crisis previous generations never had to face.
What few conservatives seem to realize is that liberals really do not look at the world in the same way that we or most others do. In their view of the world, it is inconceivable that fair-minded, intelligent men and women could take what they see as the preposterous, delusional positions that Republicans, Tea Party members, conservatives and millions of others are taking these days.
In recent weeks, two very different pollsters illuminated this parallel universe. Scott Rasmussen makes a habit of comparing the attitudes of those he sees as members of the nation's "political class" with those of average Americans. One can nitpick the way in which he decides who is or isn't in the political class, but the responses demonstrate a deep divide between this class and most Americans that tells us much about both.
Mr. Rasmussen, like many pollsters, asks whether the country is on the right or wrong track. When asked this standard question earlier this month, fully 84 percent of mainstream respondents said they thought we were on the wrong track, but members of the political class had a far different take on how things were going. Sixty-four percent of those respondents told Mr. Rasmussen they thought the country was moving in the right direction.
That is a huge gap between popular and elite views of the world, and it extends to attitudes about other issues. With virtually everyone outside Washington focused on the fiscal straits in which the nation finds itself, members of the political class, according to Mr. Rasmussen, don't think fiscal and economic issues are all that important. Twenty-four percent of mainstream voters consider taxes and spending the No. 1 issue these days, but just 2 percent of the political class agreed.
At about the same time, pollster Gabe Joseph polled more than 6,000 people across the country and discovered some astounding differences between the attitudes of self-described liberals or Democrats and those of independents, conservatives and Republicans. Plumbing the minds of Democrats for a description of the world they inhabit wasn't Mr. Joseph's goal, but the data collected enables us to do just that.
Mr. Joseph asked whether respondents considered themselves better off today than when Mr. Obama took office. Unsurprisingly, just 24 percent of the Republicans and 32 percent of the independents were willing to say they were better off under Mr. Obama. Self-described Democrats were very, very different. More than 53 percent claimed to be better off today than when Mr. Obama took office; they were far less concerned about losing their jobs than either Republicans or independents and were 30 points less concerned about the Standard &Poor's downgrade of America's credit rating than Republicans.
These are astounding numbers that illustrate how out of touch members of the nation's political elites are with average Americans and also explain why Democrats cannot understand the angst about the economy, jobs and runaway spending. In their minds, the world is a pretty nice place and those who suggest otherwise are either crazy, quasi-terrorists or up to no good in some other way. This happy view of where we are and where we're headed explains why Mr. Obama was able to dismiss the recent downgrade so cavalierly and why some Democrats in Congress want to investigate S&P for suggesting that all is not rosy.
They are so sure of themselves that "Meet the Press" host David Gregory, a charter member of Mr. Rasmussen's political class, dumbfounded by Michelle Bachmann's vote against raising the debt ceiling, asked her after the Iowa straw poll how she could possibly defend her position when "virtually everyone in a leadership position" disagreed with her. When she responded that 80 percent of the country disagreed with those leaders, Mr. Gregory dismissed that by saying, "What does that matter?"
Time will tell. Either things are great and the public is delusional or Mr. Obama and his friends need to be brought back to the planet on which the rest of us live. Both sides can't be right, and, Mr. Gregory notwithstanding, those voters out there will decide between these parallel universes in 1 1/2 years.
David A. Keene, former chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a member of the board for the ACU, the National Rifle Association, the Constitution Project and the Center for the National Interest.
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