Monday, September 21, 2009

Yes, the Gallup poll shows that most Americans think the federal government is trying to do too much.

But.... so what?

The problem with trying to exploit this issue is that there is no consensus on WHAT the federal government is doing wrong. Some people are upset over the government bailing out financial institutions, while others are upset over government regulation of health care, with still others upset over stimulus spending. And on every issue there are going to be people who actually like what the government is doing.

Thus, a politician can only run against government in the abstract, not against a litany of programs. A politician can win some votes by proposing to eliminate or scale back stimulus spending but he'll likely lose votes from those who like (probably because they think they benefit from) the stimulus spending. The same holds true for every other issue: gain some votes from those opposed, lose votes from those in favor.

This is what happened with Ross Perot, who got a bunch of votes running as the anti-status quo, but he was unable to actually turn his support into a political party.... precisely because there was no consensus - other than against government - among his voters.

And this is the same dynamic that holds with pork barrel spending. People can oppose this in the abstract, but they all love it when it comes to spending in their own districts.

So while it may be fun to pick up on this anti-government sentiment, it is darned hard to harness it...