Politics & Policy

‘A Nation of Dodos’

Liberals turn against the American public.

On the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, pompous anchorman Ted Baxter once ran for the Minneapolis City Council. After his not-unexpected drubbing, he gave a concession speech in which he proclaimed, “The voters have spoken, and if that’s what they want — the hell with them.”

With a Democratic electoral debacle looking more and more likely this fall, Democrats and their apologists in the mainstream media appear ready to steal a page from the Baxter playbook.

For a long time, the media assumed that the problem was the Obama administration’s inability to communicate its accomplishments. If only the president could better explain all the wonderful things that he has done for us, the voters would come around. But as the president has continued to give speech after speech touting his policies, voters have remained unmoved. Indeed, according to the latest Gallup poll, Americans oppose the stimulus package by 52 percent to 43 percent, the auto bailout by 56 percent to 43 percent, the health-care bill by 56 percent to 39 percent, and the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) by 61 percent to 37 percent.

Another explanation was needed, and now the media appear to have found one: Americans are nuts!

Time’s Joe Klein was perhaps the first out of the gate. We are “a nation of dodos,” he complained. We are “flagrantly ill-informed.” Klein was particularly incensed that we don’t understand that the stimulus worked. Of course, with unemployment inching up to 9.6 percent last month, and with President Obama now calling for a fourth stimulus package (if you count the two enacted under President Bush), it’s increasingly clear that the stimulus did not work.

Nevertheless, the chorus is now growing — and growing increasingly hysterical. On MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Mathews worries about “crazy voters.” Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post goes farther: Voters aren’t just crazy, they are “spoiled brats” who are throwing “a temper tantrum.” And Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution chalks it all up to the fact that we are racists — extraordinarily far-sighted racists, apparently, who are looking ahead to the day 40–50 years from now when “the browning of America” will make minorities a majority of the U.S. population — and voting out of “fear.”

It’s undeniable, of course, that voters frequently want contradictory things — lower taxes but more services, for example. Voters often dislike Congress but vote to reelect their own congressman (a trend that does not seem to be holding this year). Politicians have always known that it is easier to motivate voters with emotion than with facts.

But the liberal contempt for voters that is bubbling to the surface this year is actually reflective of something much more significant. The reality is that much of contemporary liberal policy is based on the idea that Americans are just too dumb or too venal to be allowed to make decisions about their own lives. They must instead rely on a benevolent, all-knowing government to make those decisions for them.

The new health-care law provides a prime example. Should people be able to decide whether or what kind of health insurance they buy? Of course not. They need to be coerced into buying the health-insurance plan that the government thinks is best. If you leave decisions about treatment up to patients and doctors, they will either go untreated or waste valuable resources. That is why the government needs to inject itself, substituting its judgment for that of doctors and patients.

On policy after policy, the liberal belief that government knows better than people shows through. Should parents be able to decide what school their children attend? Absolutely not. What about young people — should they be able to decide how to save for their retirement by, say, voluntarily contributing a portion of their payroll taxes to a personal-retirement account? Impossible. Private charity can’t be counted on to deal with poverty, so we need a government-run welfare system. And so on.

Yet the failure of government decision-making becomes more apparent every day. Government health care, public schools, Social Security, the welfare system — all have been dismal failures. Obamacare will not reduce costs or improve the quality of health care. TARP, the bailouts, and the stimulus have not created jobs or increased economic growth.

Perhaps voters are now looking at the wreckage of government policy and deciding that they can do a better job of running their own lives. Looking at the record, that’s not so crazy after all.

— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.

Michael TannerMr. Tanner is the director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Poverty and Inequality in California and the author of The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America’s Poor.


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