- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

While visiting a Starbucks in suburban Washington last week, I picked up a copy of a small, liberal weekly newspaper called the Falls Church News Press. Somewhere between its regularly featured reprints of New York Times columnists Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, its own editorial titled “More Worry Than Hope” argued Americans are “stressed out” this holiday season. The war in Iraq, Katrina and gas prices all contribute to malaise and victimhood.

Even the haven of bankruptcy, it writes, is less of an option for “people who feel helpless against their own binge spending, flooded with lines of credit, like lines of a powdery drug, postponing reality with an empty fantasy that the buying can continue without consequence.” It appears “Saturday Night Live’s” ever gloomy Debbie Downer now has a soulmate.

I’ve seen this paper before, and my first reaction was to write it off as just another left-wing, Bush-hating crank. After all, the economy’s humming along, the elections in Iraq went well, gas prices are coming down — life in America is far from perfect, but isn’t there some reason for some optimism?

But then it hit me. Where does this editorial writer get his hope? The same place most liberals do — from a powerful, activist, benevolent government. The bigger, the better. Because, as government grows, so does its capacity to serve and save humanity, at least in the liberal mind. And for the past five years, friends of big-government activism have not controlled the levers of power in Washington — a major stress factor.

If I were a liberal who derived my primary hope from government, I’d be ready for some Prozac, too. And herein may lie some clues about the gap between perception and reality concerning the economy and other indicators suggesting that America’s in a foul mood.

When conservatives hold the reins of big government, liberals get nervous and grumpy. And that’s one of the reasons there is a divide between economic reality and public perception. Relying on a Republican president and Congress to dispense the needed programmatic drug of choice for liberals is like the junkie asking a minister for a fix.

The intensity of liberal frustration with Republican control serves as a huge, and little understood, drag on overall national polls and interpretations of the current political climate in America. Understanding the wide variation in opinion between Democrats and Republicans explains a lot about why questions regarding “right track/wrong track,” the economy, and the overall mood of the country appear dire, despite some hopeful and positive signs.

For example, a late November Gallup Poll asked Americans about their satisfaction with the state of the nation. Nearly 69 percent of Republicans answered “satisfied,” compared to only 14 percent of Democrats. Gallup notes these “vast partisan differences have existed throughout the year.” Another Gallup Poll found Democrats more “worried” about their family finances by a 2-1 margin.

A December, 2005, Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll reports that 52 percent of Republicans rate the economy “excellent or good,” while only 12 percent of Democrats hold that view. And a Diageo/Hotline study this month found 58 percent of Republicans thought the nation was on the “right track,” while only 10 percent of Democrats did.

Part of the explanation for these differences is the infectious impact of secular thought on modern liberal political ideology and the Democratic Party. According to this view, government fills the void left by the declining influence of the church, families and communities. Touchstone magazine published a blog entry from one of its writers describing some conversations with “Blue State Liberals” earlier this year that summed up the mindset well. The writer found liberals “still need something large and strong and good to secure their futures in this world — the only world in which they believe. So they believe in the State, and put their trust in it, willing to vote for any person or program that makes it as big as God and as kind as God ought to be, if there was a God.”

Liberal frustration with Republicans controlling the levers of government will not abate anytime soon. But these extreme views also make the American political landscape look bleaker than it really is. There is reason for hope this holiday season, but conservatives need to remind Americans it’s not found in the arms of even larger federal government.

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