The National Catholic Review
John J. DiIulio, Jr.
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Some seasoned political analysts in both parties believe that the Tea Party movement will soon be a footnote to political history. In recent months, several polls by various survey research organizations have bolstered that prediction.

Gallup polls, for instance, found that the percentage of Americans who identify with the Tea Party fell from 33 percent in November 2010 to 25 percent. The movement’s strong supporters (14 percent) were outnumbered by its strong opponents (22 percent). When asked whether a Tea Party endorsement would make them more likely or less likely to support a candidate, 23 percent of Americans said more likely; 42 percent said less likely. Similarly, a Pew Research Center poll found that more people (43 percent) had a negative view of the Tea Party than had a positive view (36 percent) of it.

But whether or not the Tea Party movement fades into the political woodwork, the fact remains that anti-Washington sentiment runs wider and deeper than ever before.

In other recent Gallup polls, a record-low 13 percent of the electorate (9 percent of Independents, 15 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans) approved of Congress. This pox on Congress came on the heels of a survey asking whether, compared with how Washington has “dealt with the nation’s problems in the past,” President Obama and the current Congress are doing better, worse or about the same: “worse” beat “better” by nearly 4 to 1, and 39 percent labeled today’s national government the “worst ever.”

And in a just-released Gallup poll concerning how people perceive 24 business sectors plus the federal government, a record-high 63 percent expressed a very negative or somewhat negative view of Washington (the only worse rating was for the oil industry, at 64 percent).

Even more revealing (and chilling), a Rasmussen poll in August found that a record-low 17 percent of voters “feel the federal government has the consent of the governed.”

Several Republican presidential hopefuls sound anything but hopeful regarding our national government. For instance, Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas and as of this writing his party’s front runner, has rejected former Pr esident George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” denounced Bush’s record as it relates to expanding Medicare and other federal programs and said he wishes to render the national government as “inconsequential” as possible in Americans’ lives. Another Rasmussen survey in August found that a plurality of Americans (38 percent) share Governor Perry’s wish.

Public opinion is more positive when pollsters ask about particular federal agencies or programs rather than about the Congress or Washington in general. But only a handful of federal agencies now receive approval ratings above 50 percent, and only a few, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NASA and the F.B.I., routinely exceed 50 percent approval.

Mass public disaffection for state and local government has also been increasing. Over the last quarter-century, the fraction of citizens who express a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust and confidence in state and local governments fell by 11 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

A decade ago this month, Americans mourned lives lost to terrorist attacks and marveled at how so many good citizens, including so many public-spirited federal, state and local government officials and workers, risked all and rose to the occasion. It was not long, however, before the partisan political infighting, bureaucracy bashing and cynicism about our democratic institutions resumed and reached new highs.

In the 1939 movie classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Jimmy Stewart plays the young U.S. Senator Jefferson Smith, a sentimental patriot who combats political corruption that stretches from his small town to Capitol Hill. In his Senate floor filibuster, he pleads with his listeners not to lose faith in their government: “Get up there with that lady that’s on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty.... And it’s not too late.... Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again.” Amen.

John J. DiIulio Jr. is the author of Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America’s Faith-Based Future (Univ. of California Press, 2007).

Comments

C Walter Mattingly | 9/15/2011 - 5:22am
Ed,
Good point that you make clear US public education is primarily state funded and controlled, although many federal laws and dollars and organizations are intertwined in the process (I included state monies in "public service" portion of my comment).  And to be candid, I peronsally find postal service the last decade or so to be better than it was a quarter century ago. Again speaking personally, I find the key issue to be motivation, and perhaps here we can make a distinction between say the postal service. and most categories of federal bureaucracy, and defense. Any private corporation has the most severe sort of motivation: if it does not employ its human and capital resources creatively, efficiently, and in a timely fashion, it will go broke. Profit and loss, and losses are as substantial and motivating as profits. There is no sort of natural market forces so directly addressing most public bureaucracies, although I suspect partial competition with UPS and Fedex contributed to the improvement at the PO. 
Defense, however, has in the background perhaps an even stronger motivational factor than profit and loss: the free market reward/punishment for defense is, perform well, and chances are you live. Perform poorly, and you die. The interreliance and teamwork of Marines, for instance, is something to behold. 
ed gleason | 9/13/2011 - 1:31pm
Walter; At least you see that some federal agencies work well when you  praise defense and condemn dept of.Education.  Of course there are no federal teachers/principals  in the Dept of education . Schools are all local last time I looked.  The real question is why do some agencies work well and others don't. Post office and VA not so good but FBI, IRS work well. Why is the question?.One answer I know about is that FEMA was staffed by political hacks who had little skills but  were promised a job by the winning party. Hacks were not placed in the FBI or IRS.. they did their own selection.  Both parties did this kind of hack placement. .. in FEMA's case, this goes all the way back to when it was called civil defense.   Complaining is just useless tea party rhetoric but constant reform is the answer..    
C Walter Mattingly | 9/11/2011 - 5:11am
Mike,
The glacial pace of the federal bureaucracy and public service in general was a standing joke far before President Clinton became governor, much less president. I recall a Carol Burnett show in the late 60's  in which Carol's character, attempting to mail a package, had an interchange with a surly and slow-moving postal worker. When Carol's character in frustration claimed she would go to his supervisor and get him fired, his response was, "Lady, you can't get me fired. This is a government job." 
It got the loudest laugh of the show.
Nor will you find many republicans denigrating all government programs. Certainly you will find them severely criticizing our most expensive in the world public education system. Who will praise the most expensive public educational system in the world that produces 3rd quartile results? Not even many liberals, as the idea is bankrupt. But you won't find too many conservatives criticizing the results of our extremely expensive defense program, widely recognized as clearly the best in the world. President Obama, for example, was able to fly forces of helicopters into a foreign city, invade a compound, shoot Bin Laden in the head, and return with the body and all the loot from the compound, without even being noticed by the invaded country. Who else could have done that successfully without taking casualties or being detected? 
Now republicans and democrats do complain about the cost of defense, but at least they get top performance for this most expensive program, not 3rd quartile. 
Christopher Mulcahy | 9/10/2011 - 8:03pm

Whatever we do, let’s keep the criticism on the level of Washington actors and political parties.   It would be wrong, wouldn’t it, to focus on individual responsibility?  Like knowing which way a screw turns or how to paint a room.  Like owning an alarm clock and knowing how to set it.  Like wearing conventional clothing for work, as opposed to saggy pants and/or lip tattoos.   Like showing up on time, or getting the job done.


Of course education is about Washington budgets, not blackboard drills or the times tables.   It’s about contention over the politically correct content of textbooks, not the McGuffey reader or Horatio Alger stories.   It’s about sex education and gym and making sure the kids have their shots.  And don’t touch a kid, of course.


It’s about  justice (“social justice”) and the federal courts, not the justice that occurs in the sequence of the cardinal virtues, e.g. prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.   Let’s just concentrate on the  justice system where lawyers operate.  Forget those other cardinals—they focus unfairly on  individual responsibility.


Here’s the problem:  we’re going down.  It’s going to hurt.  We lost it, and we’re going to pay. So sad for America.

James Collins | 9/9/2011 - 5:04pm
Little respect for federal agencies, you bet. One of our local congresswoman this morning revealed that their are over 200 federal regulations in the pipeline and each one is assessed at costing us in excess of 100 million dollars. This while we are hemoraghing red ink. The 2,500 pages of Obamacare are being developed into over 200,000 pages of regul;ations. That cost will be humungus. Think of all the work that is and what work it will create for lawyers.

There is a ground swell of public opinion, the Tea Party is just one manifestation of it, which is outraged over the worst post recession economic management since the 30's and the prospect of one trillion plus deficits far into the future. And President Obama wants to spend another 450 million that we do not have. As to reports of less support for the Tea Party, I wouldn't take that too seriously. It will ramp up again as the 2012 election gets closer. Also you need to look into the detail of those poll numbers. Pollsters today are as partisan as the politicians who hire them.

As for parisan rhetoric, this will be the most vicious political campaign ever. If Romney is the GOP candidate look for the Obama administration to try to crucify him because of his religion. Oh, Obama won't do it personally, he will have his aides do it. This weekend here in Detroit Jimmy Hoffa of the teamsters referred to Tea Partiers, conservatives and Republican by commenting, "we are going to take the sons of bitches down." Obama did not correct him or apologize for it.
James Collins | 9/9/2011 - 5:04pm
Little respect for federal agencies, you bet. One of our local congresswoman this morning revealed that their are over 200 federal regulations in the pipeline and each one is assessed at costing us in excess of 100 million dollars. This while we are hemoraghing red ink. The 2,500 pages of Obamacare are being developed into over 200,000 pages of regul;ations. That cost will be humungus. Think of all the work that is and what work it will create for lawyers.

There is a ground swell of public opinion, the Tea Party is just one manifestation of it, which is outraged over the worst post recession economic management since the 30's and the prospect of one trillion plus deficits far into the future. And President Obama wants to spend another 450 million that we do not have. As to reports of less support for the Tea Party, I wouldn't take that too seriously. It will ramp up again as the 2012 election gets closer. Also you need to look into the detail of those poll numbers. Pollsters today are as partisan as the politicians who hire them.

As for parisan rhetoric, this will be the most vicious political campaign ever. If Romney is the GOP candidate look for the Obama administration to try to crucify him because of his religion. Oh, Obama won't do it personally, he will have his aides do it. This weekend here in Detroit Jimmy Hoffa of the teamsters referred to Tea Partiers, conservatives and Republican by commenting, "we are going to take the sons of bitches down." Obama did not correct him or apologize for it.
JOSEPH D'ANNA | 9/9/2011 - 2:23pm

American government and politicians no longer seek to solve problems or to improve the country.  They do as little as possible to placate the electorate and get re-elected, as they continue to serve the interests of Wall Street and the American Chamber of Commerce. 

President Obama’s jobs address is a prime example of the current attitude.  Ask nearly any American why we don’t have jobs, and they will respond, “America makes fewer and fewer of the essential things we need or want, like clothes, consumer and household electronics, tools, and even large kitchen appliances”.  Did the President mention or offer real solutions to our unbalanced economy, our $600 billion dollar trade deficit, the loss of 50,000 factories in the last decade, the failure of “our great private-sector economic engine” to generate jobs, or the current failure of tax cuts and stimulus spending to fix the economy?  Incredibly, despite the short-comings of the President’s stated proposals , the Congressional Republicans clearly want to do even less.

Nothing will change unless we relentlessly contest, protest and ridicule the idiocy of the current Democratic and Republican policies and their subservience to international corporations and Wall Street.  Unfortunately, our choices for President, e.g. Obama, Perry, and Bachman, are “incompetent”, “irrationally incompetent”, and “really, really stupid”.
Mike Evans | 9/9/2011 - 12:58pm

One of the most noticeable effects since the Clinton era has been the apparent slowness of the bureaucratic infrastructure of the federal government which has reinforced the impression that all governmental programs are a waste and full of fraud. Currently, we are still awaiting Emergency Food and Shelter Program funds which have been held up for nearly 6 months now. The agencies routinely lose documents and fail to follow up on inquiries. Many programs get shuffled around from sub agency to sub agency and have lost the experienced and dedicate staff they formerly trained and used well. The anti government sentiment was encouraged by the apparent failure of the previous stimulus program to exhibit success and account for its ability to save and create jobs. The Republican minority is dedicated to denigrating government programs even when they prove effective and efficient. Wait now for them to roundly criticize FEMA for its response to Irene and other weather-related tragedies. And of course, Mr. Cantor wants all these new needs to be paid for by bankrupting all the old needs. We are engaged in ideological warfare and public servants are afraid of their potential new masters.

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