- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2010


The rising wave of popular activism in the United States is ritually derided by liberal commentators, politicians and academics as fringe-movement politics. But recent polling reveals that skepticism about government is broad and deep. Discontent with Washington has become the mainstream position; those who defend big government are the real extremists.

The annual Pew Research Center survey on trust in government released this week found “a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government - a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”

The details are sobering. Fifty-six percent of Americans are frustrated with government, and an additional 21 percent are “angry.” Anger at government has doubled in the past 10 years and now is equal with the percentage of people who are basically content. As well, 30 percent identify the federal government as a major threat to their personal freedom.

The Obama administration has the lowest average trust rating of any administration in the 50 years of the survey. Discontent with Congress is also at record levels. The percentage of Americans desiring smaller government with fewer services has risen from 42 percent to 50 percent since Barack Obama was elected president, while the number desiring more big-government solutions has declined from 43 percent to 39 percent.

In another survey, the Rasmussen organization reported that two-thirds of Americans think they are overtaxed, a belief surprisingly more prevalent among lower-income voters. Three-quarters think 20 percent is a fair rate of taxation, and most think the average American pays 30 percent or more. This is a good estimate. The most recent report from the Tax Foundation pegs the total tax burden from all levels of government at almost 27 percent in 2010. This figure rises to almost 39 percent when the increased debt from massive deficit spending is included. This is almost twice the tax burden most Americans consider fair.

Complaining about taxes is an American custom, but now there is a serious disconnect between the people and Washington power brokers. Eighty-one percent of mainstream Americans think the country is overtaxed, but three-quarters of the political class think tax levels are just fine. This could help explain the results of another Rasmussen survey, from January, that showed just 4 percent of Americans tend to trust political leaders more than the public at large.

Politicians ignore growing public dissatisfaction at their professional peril. Discontent of this scale was last seen in 1994, which contributed to the watershed congressional election that year in which Democrats lost a net 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate. But President Obama and the congressional Democratic leadership are determined to double down on the very big-government programs the public is rejecting.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, draws the lesson from the Pew survey that “both sides are guilty” and public frustration is not the result of high taxes and soaring deficits but of “promises made but not promises kept.” If the senator’s state of denial represents the general view of Democrats, 2010 is likely to be another watershed election year. Mrs. McCaskill is lucky her term isn’t up for another two years. Many in her party aren’t so fortunate.

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