Many Americans Don’t Seem All That Upset about Big Government

by Jim Geraghty

From the Thursday Morning Jolt:

Contemplate the Possibility that Americans Are Fine with Big Government

Over at Hot Air, Taylor Millard examines my contention that the Tea Party is effectively dead and argues that it’s more accurate to say it evolved:

. . . the focus seemed to shift from fiscal responsibility to other things: worshiping God, social conservatism, and, at times, immigration. There’s nothing wrong with this, but that’s not what the Tea Party was founded upon. The first Tea Party rally in Arizona I went to in 2012 was definitely more of a show, and not like the rallies I’d seen on TV, watch[ed] online, or read about on blogs.

Taylor concludes:

It isn’t always going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean what happened in 2009 should be forgotten. What it does mean is the fiscal hawks need to keep fighting and keep explaining why sanity is needed. This means things like entitlement reform, audits of the Fed and Defense Department, and cutting government where it needs to be cut (no more farm subsidies please) are all issues which have to be pressed, but messaged in a way to get more people involved.

Let me offer a thought that every conservative should contemplate, even though it’s one we would rather avoid: What if the American people don’t want smaller government that spends less?

This is where we usually hear talk about how small-government conservatives need ‘better messaging.” Or someone will insist that there’s a broad desire for a smaller government that spends less, but those Washington insiders and Establishment sold out the conservative agenda. But what if Americans have heard the arguments for smaller government, understand the arguments — or understand them as well as they’re ever going to — and have rejected them?

Does a country where the popular vote in the last six elections went for Clinton, Clinton, Gore, Bush, Obama and Obama really crave smaller government?

Polling indicates that 70 percent want a smaller deficit . . . but the only spending cut that gets anywhere near a majority support is to foreign aid — about 1 percent of the budget — and even that’s close to an even split. “For 18 of 19 programs tested, majorities want either to increase spending or maintain it at current levels.” People want smaller government right up until the point where it actually affects them.

The current Republican front-runner is running against entitlement reform:

Trump opposes any cuts to Social Security and Medicare — and Medicaid, for that matter. In April, at the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit, Trump criticized his fellow Republicans for proposing reforms of the entitlement programs that are bankrupting the country: “Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that.” Medicare and Social Security alone face more than $69.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities, but Trump insists that the programs can be saved without cuts. “All these other people want to cut the hell out of it,” Trump said of Social Security. “I’m not going to cut it at all. I’m going to bring money in, and we’re going to save it.”

It’s not just Trump; members of Congress and poll respondents are less concerned about spending levels, too:

Total mentions in Congress of “deficit” peaked in 2011 at 8,101. The count declined to 1,543 mentions in 2015. The use of “debt,” too, has fallen precipitously since 2011.

. . . Congress’s apparently declining interest in deficits and debt is shared by most Americans. Fewer Americans now cite the federal budget deficit as one of their top priorities. According to PollingReport.com, in 35 polls taken between June 2010 and July 2015 that asked about the “most important problem” or “priority” for the country, the percentage of respondents citing some variation of the “federal deficit” or “budget deficit/national debt” steadily declined.

If the national debt were tangible — a giant monster, rampaging across the landscape — people would mobilize to stop it. But it’s not; it’s just a number on a piece of paper. By the time Obama leaves office, he’ll have added about $8 trillion to the debt, and plenty of Americans — to the extent they’re even aware of it — will feel it hasn’t affected their lives one bit. The interest payments on the debt — $227 billion — don’t “feel” big enough, and aren’t squeezing out other spending priorities enough, to worry people.

Saul Alinsky wrote:

The moment one gets into the area of $25 million and above, let alone a billion, the listener is completely out of touch, no longer really interested, because the figures have gone above his experience and almost are meaningless. Millions of Americans do not know how many million dollars make up a billion.

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