The American people are a political paradox.
Washington’s latest budget battle, the Syria debacle, a weak economy and the possibility of a federal government shutdown have left the voting public angry, confused, conflicted and scared — all at once. Try to reconcile this month’s polling data from Gallup:
— Americans despise Congress. Just 19 percent approve of the legislative branch. The public disapproves of President Barack Obama and the four congressional leaders, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., being the least popular of the bunch. His net approval rating is -20. (Go Harry!)
— Sixty percent of Americans believe the federal government has too much power, a Gallup record high. Thirty-two percent of Americans believe the federal government has about the right amount of power, a Gallup record low for the question. Seven percent say the federal government has too little power. Among Democrats, 38 percent believe Washington has too much power, a Gallup high since Obama took office.
— Americans’ trust in the federal government’s ability to handle international and domestic problems hit record lows. Just 49 percent of the public have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in Washington’s foreign policy, and 42 percent have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in the government’s ability to address domestic issues.
Previous Gallup polling has found more than 60 percent of Americans are worried about federal spending and the budget deficit; more than two-thirds of Americans believe lobbyists, corporations, and banks and financial institutions have too much power; and that about three-quarters of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the country.
Put together, the data represent a landslide no-confidence vote in the federal government.
But polling also mined these numbers:
— A majority of Americans want Washington to compromise to get things done. A Gallup survey this month found 53 percent of Americans believe it’s more important for politicians to deal, while just 20 percent say leaders should stand firm on principle.
— A June Gallup survey revealed 49 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with Congress because gridlocked lawmakers won’t compromise and can’t get anything done.
— Finally, a CBS News/New York Times poll found 80 percent of Americans do not want the federal government shut down as a result of a partisan policy dispute. Recall that the 1995 federal shutdown was not popular with Americans, either.
So Americans can’t stand Congress, have little confidence in Washington’s ability to address anything, believe the federal government has too much power and worry about deficit spending, yet they oppose a shutdown and want lawmakers to compromise to get things done?
These clowns screw up everything they get their fingers on, from housing to health care, from education to agriculture to energy. And when they compromise and “get things done,” the result is always a bigger, more powerful government that borrows and spends ever more tax money.
More compromise means ever more laws, more agencies and more programs. That requires corporations, unions and special interests to spend ever more on lobbying, elections and lawyers, whether it’s to pad their own pockets or play defense. And both parties are all too eager to reward said interests at every opportunity.
Voters want more compromise? We have a leviathan federal bureaucracy that tramples the Constitution precisely because of compromise. The government doesn’t serve us. We serve the government.
The best evidence that Washington is nothing more than an economic black hole was provided this month by the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the bureau’s American Community Survey, the income of a typical Washington, D.C., area household increased 23.3 percent between 2000 and 2012 to an inflation-adjusted $66,583. During the same period, the median household income for the country as a whole dropped 6.6 percent, from $55,030 to $51,371. (Nevada’s median household income plunged 11.9 percent.)
The Washington metro area, which includes parts of Virgina, Maryland and West Virginia, is the most prosperous in America, with a median household income of $88,233. USA Today has reported in recent years that federal employees’ average compensation has grown to more than double what private-sector workers earn; that the number of federal employees earning at least $150,000 per year has increased tenfold since 2005; and that the average federal employee benefit package is worth almost as much as the average private-sector salary.
I attribute the disconnect in public opinion to two factors. First, the large number of people who are dependent on federal programs and benefits. A lot of seniors are especially ardent that Congress slash spending — as long as they don’t touch Medicare and Social Security. Second, a lot of Americans, deep down, have faith in the institutions of government while at the same time being disgusted with the incompetent hacks who currently occupy the Capitol. They believe the same parties might get different results.
Call me a cynic, but that’s the definition of insanity.
Glenn Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.