- - Thursday, August 25, 2011


The dynamics of politics today are much different from those of 40 years ago. Then, you could land on the moon and the political goodwill would last for months.

Today, in the 24/7 Internet/cable news era, you might not get much more than a few days. That new dynamic, combined with today’s disenchantment with government and politicians, is resulting in public opinion moving much faster than the leadership of our politicians.

As we all know, the past two years have seen the rise of the tea-party movement, a movement reflecting dissatisfaction by Americans with their government. According to Rasmussen Reports, just 17 percent of Americans think government has their consent — a new low for that poll.

Consistent with that, presidents and many governors find their own polling in the low 40s, if not lower.

America is in what could be called the Divided Era. Partisanship is at a modern high, with much of the nation divided evenly along party lines.

That high state of partisanship is caused, in large part, by the stakes being so high.

The sheer size and intrusiveness of our government pits groups of people against one another in competition for government benefits, while taxpayers do battle with tax users.

What’s a politician to do? Because democracies are generally slow to act (in part by design) it’s no surprise that politicians are slow as well.

The problem is that public sentiment seeks a faster pace of change than our leaders are providing — and the gap between the two is increasing.

Consider, if you will, what happened to Republicans over the debt-ceiling debate.

If they had made the same demands four years ago that they did in connection with those negotiations, they well may have been hailed as heroes.

Now, however, they are criticized by some as not going far enough.

Why? Because political opinion is moving so fast that they are being judged as falling behind the curve.

What was good enough then is no longer good enough now.

The faster the demand for change picks up, the further leaders can fall behind and be subject to discontent.

That fate befell Mikhail Gorbachev. He tried to reform the Soviet Union. After his initial reforms, the demand for liberty picked up speed. His reforms were outpaced on the ground as public opinion in favor of freedom accelerated. The Soviet Union was pulled apart by its people rather than being reformed.

Prior to our own American Revolution, public opinion was sparked, then heated up and gained speed after England’s passage of the Stamp Act. That tax, said to be the first internal tax on the colonists, caused public outrage and gave rise to Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.

In response to the growing public discord, England agreed to repeal the Stamp Act. However, England soon found that was not good enough. Once unleashed, public dissent moved too fast for simple measures of repeal, and a revolution ensued despite calls on both sides of the Atlantic for calm.

In America today, impatience and anger among voters on both sides of the spectrum is high, and the pace of that impatience is picking up steam.

On the other hand, politicians whose comfort is being threatened by the uprising belittle voters and suggest they can “go straight to hell.”

If Republicans want to win a mandate next year, they will need to get out in front of this dynamic in order to avoid falling victim to it.

They can do that, in part, by offering reforms that reduce the scope and reach of government rather than temporarily cutting spending.

Given the ever-increasing pace of change, there is no time like the present to offer those reforms.

Thomas Del Beccaro is chairman of the California Republican Party.

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