As Barack Obama begins his second term in office, trust in the federal government remains mired near a historic low, while frustration with government remains high. And for the first time, a majority of the public says that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, finds that 53% think that the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms while 43% disagree.
In March 2010, opinions were divided over whether the government represented a threat to personal freedom; 47% said it did while 50% disagreed. In surveys between 1995 and 2003, majorities rejected the idea that the government threatened people’s rights and freedoms.
The growing view that the federal government threatens personal rights and freedoms has been led by conservative Republicans. Currently 76% of conservative Republicans say that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms and 54% describe the government as a “major” threat. Three years ago, 62% of conservative Republicans said the government was a threat to their freedom; 47% said it was a major threat.
By comparison, there has been little change in opinions among Democrats; 38% say the government poses a threat to personal rights and freedoms and just 16% view it as a major threat.
I find this last paragraph to be the most interesting: it was the Democrats who shrieked throughout the Bush Administration about civil liberties, Guantanamo, the PATRIOT Act, losing habeus corpus, and always calling Bush 43 a fascist. Yet less than one-fifth of Democrats worry that the government is a major threat to our personal rights today—the same government that nearly passed SOPA, did pass the NDAA act with the indefinite detention provisions, and is now using drones to spy on Americans. Oh, and continues the inane drug war. It’s remarkable.
What’s also interesting is that nobody blames the system, they just blame the personalities involved:
When asked if the current problem with Congress is a broken political system, or the members themselves, most people continue to point to the lawmakers. A majority (56%) says that the political system can work fine, it is the members of Congress that are the problem. Only about a third (32%) says that lawmakers have good intentions and it is political system that is broken.
At a time when there are wide partisan differences in opinions about government, there is broad agreement that members of Congress are the problem. Virtually identical majorities of Republicans (58%), Democrats (57%) and independents (56%) say that lawmakers, rather than the political system, are the problem with Congress.
On the one hand, I agree. Just as you can’t blame the gun for the murderer, you have to keep the responsibility for this mess with the people. But, as I have said before, our voting system is horribly outdated and is almost designed to elect people who are not representative of the public. If we want to improve the quality of people in Congress, we’re going to have to make serious reforms: eliminating the first-past-the-post election system and hopefully replacing it with approval voting (or, if we have to, instant runoff voting); establishing term limits for all Congressional members; returning the election of Senators to the state legislatures, which was the whole point of having a Senate in the first place; and establishing new rules to force legislators to actually read what they’re voting on, prohibit them from delegating their legislative duties to unelected bureaucracies, and work within a properly balanced budget. (No more baseline budgeting, either.) The rules of the game are very important. Right now, those rules lead to corrupt, self-serving, petty tyrants in most cases. Count me in as one of the 32% who thinks the system is broken (though I certainly don’t think that lawmakers have “good intentions” in most cases.)
Meanwhile, if you keep reading, you’ll find that roughly three-fifths of Americans are fed up with the government, and that even 59% of Democrats don’t trust their government. (I suppose I will have to go back and amend this post from a long time ago.)
Okay, so you don’t trust your government. Bravo. But I have to ask: why on Earth do you keep electing these people? If over half the country is afraid of the government being a threat to our personal rights, and we live in a democracy where we can elect our leaders, should we not elect new leaders? I realize many have been brainwashed by the absolutely idiotic “wasted vote myth,” but if you really think that both of the major party guys on the ballot are turds, then it’s extremely easy to vote for a third party candidate (should one be available.) We really are at the point where we’re voting between a turd and a turd sandwich. That should be painfully obvious even to the people who live way beyond the beltway, in the heartland of America or the tips of the Rockies or in the cities on the coasts, the people who aren’t paying all that much attention to politics.
I am still optimistic for the long-term future, but short-term, I have to scratch my head and wonder what is wrong with the American public today. Is it the media? Is it the education system? It is the Xbox? I don’t get it.