Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Americans don’t approve of their government: Feel better?

For progressives who fear that the US federal government is dysfunctional and for right-wing conservatives who think that most of it is unnecessary, Gallop’s latest findings should be heartening: Americans Rate Computer Industry Best, Federal Government Worst:

“The results range from a +62 net positive rating for the computer industry to a -46 net positive rating for the federal government.

“The sectors Americans view most negatively have all had well-publicized problems in recent years. The federal government has been near the bottom of the list in previous years, but is at the absolute bottom this year for the first time, displacing the oil and gas industry.”

Certainly, this is good news for the outs. However, this survey shouldn’t give any comfort to either extreme in American politics.

The public hasn’t decided that Washington is too Red, or too Blue, or too big, or too small, only that it talks too much and doesn’t get much done.

According to this survey, nearly twice as many Americans have a positive opinion of banking than a positive opinion of the federal government (30% compared to 17%). The health industry has a higher score. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Americans—and Wall Street bankers—are waiting to hear what Obama has to say about jobs. Furthermore, they are more concerned about how Congress leaders react to his next speech than how the markets react overnight.

And, while no one thinks that the red-tape on their desk makes any sense, clear majorities are reluctant to send seniors, children and the poor out on their own to secure health services.

The extraordinary collapse in American consumer and investment confidence in July underlies a more telling assessment of the place of the federal government in the expectations of Americans. They rely on the beast. Evidence of its paralysis and rumours of its pending bankruptcy are not leading to calls for less, but more public leadership.

Liberals tell the President to “go big,” that his speech next week on jobs is his “last chance.” Conservatives assign, retrospectively, magical powers to his presidency: it’s “his” economy and his policies destroyed 2.5 million jobs. While no one takes him seriously abroad, American “job-creators” and industrial titans apparently tremble in fear of what he’ll do next.

In a strange way, Obama’s biggest problem is his diffidence.

With so few Americans respecting the institutions of the federal government, you’d think that their incumbents’ first recourse would be to stop making mistakes and stop talking to each other the way they have been over the last year. Nevertheless, the loudest voices in politics seem to want to escalate.

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