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Review & Outlook: In Government We Mistrust –

September 2, 2011

In Government We Mistrust

Obama said he’d be Reagan in reverse. He was right.


One animating theme of Barack Obama’s campaign and early Presidency was that he would repair government’s post-Reagan reputation, expanding its role in American life so voters would turn once again to Democrats as the party of government, as they did in 1964 and the 1930s. So how’s that working out?

Not so well, judging by a remarkable Gallup poll this week that asked the public about its views of government and various businesses. The federal government dropped to its lowest approval levels ever. Only 17% were positive, 63% negative, for a net approval rating of minus-46%. Government never ranks well, but for the first time since Gallup began asking in 2003 it fell to last place—below even the oil and gas industry, which netted minus-44% approval.

Editorial board member Joe Rago on why people hate the federal government.

Gallup didn’t inquire about millionaires and billionaires and corporate jet owners, though perhaps they’re not the best foil for Mr. Obama either.

In fact, as shown in the bottom chart nearby, the public’s hostility to government has climbed to all-time highs under President Obama’s tenure. A plurality had a very or somewhat positive view as recently as 2003—41% versus 35%. Dissatisfaction climbed over President Bush’s second term amid an unpopular war and tapped-out GOP, then fell slightly on public hopes for Mr. Obama as he took office in 2009. This annual survey is conducted in August, so it may have missed the worst of the public’s reaction to the autumn 2008 panic on Wall Street and Capitol Hill. Yet today, negative views are higher, and positive views are lower, than ever before.

Gallup is hardly an outlier. In a mid-August Washington Post poll, merely 21% was satisfied with “the way this country’s political system is working,” down from 38% in 2009. Some 78% were dissatisfied, up from 61% in the 2009 poll and 64% in 2007. The Pew Research Center also reported last month that only 22% of the public is “basically content” with the federal government, by far the lowest share since the survey began in 1997.

All this is a striking rebuke to the President who rode into Washington planning to rehabilitate the country’s confidence in government as a means of advancing entitlements and transfer programs. As Mr. Obama mused during the primaries, he envisioned himself as Ronald Reagan in reverse, making the case that government is the solution and not the problem. His 2009 health-care speech to Congress ended with a soaring peroration about “the perils of too little” government.

Liberals claimed one political age was giving way to another of activist government, with the Reagan era as the aberration. “For the first time since the Johnson Administration,” George Packer wrote in the New Yorker, “the idea that government should take bold action to create equal opportunity for all citizens doesn’t have to explain itself in a defensive mumble. That idea is ascendant in 2008 because it answers the times.”

via Review & Outlook: In Government We Mistrust –


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