Wednesday, December 7, 2011

This Country Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us

Gallup Polling released some startling statistics in September. A nationwide poll showed that Americans’ distain for government performance is at a whopping 81% - an all-time record. Fully 57% have little to no confidence that the federal government can solve domestic problems, and they believe that government wastes 51 cents of every dollar it spends. But most disturbing:

Half of Americans believe our own federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.

The New York Times released poll results at the end of October showing the same level of distrust and skepticism. Not only are these results profoundly negative, they are unprecedented. The overwhelming numbers alone suggest that these dismal views cross party lines, ideologies and socio-economic demographics. Americans are showing a cynicism toward their government that is unlike anything pollsters have ever seen.

Politicians everywhere are scrambling to get a grip on this problem. With national elections less than a year away, both Democrats and Republicans are trying to come up with a “messaging strategy” that will convince majorities of voters to go their way. I think voters are sending a strong message of their own: “We don’t believe in you anymore, no matter who you are.” A friend of mine recently summed up the feeling this way: “The enemy isn’t Republicans or Democrats. It’s the government.”

I have been fortunate enough to travel this beautiful state of Minnesota for three years now. I’ve spent a great deal of time observing and listening. I have felt a sense of desperation and urgency that is truly unlike anything I’ve encountered before. I remember the malaise of the 1970s with its misery index. The mood today is worse. Coupled with the insecurity of a very fragile economy is a feeling that Washington doesn’t care about what happens to all of us as long as Congressional members continue to get their perks and pensions, the President gets his vacations, and the bureaucracy continues to get fed. We have seen our rights and civil liberties stripped away in large and small ways, and by both parties. The only thing Washington really seems to care about is controlling ordinary people while indulging its own interest groups and bureaucracy.

This is the anger that sparked the Tea Party movement. This is the cynicism that spawned the Occupy movement. Even though most of the beliefs and ideas of the two groups are diametrically opposed, that fundamental sense of betrayal by their own government fueled both movements.

Voters are rapidly reaching the point where they don’t care which party politicians say they belong to. Voters want to vote for candidates who will actually take a stand against the Washington status quo and work for the people. For too long the People have been the ones on the losing end. The People do not want politicians anymore. We want elected officials who will set aside the desire to score points for their party or themselves and instead, put the needs of the American people first. We want leaders who will take bold action to reduce the size and power of government, reinforce our rights, and facilitate leadership in the private and non-profit sectors to grow our economy, not the government bureaucracy.

As we head into 2012, voters are using a new yardstick to measure their candidates: do your ideas expand the size and control of government, increase the need for more spending and diminish the rights and opportunities of the people, or do your ideas reduce the size and expense of government, strengthen our rights and liberties, and facilitate growth in the private sector? Voters are telling us there is not room for both. Either you stand with government bureaucracy and control, or you stand with the citizens of this great nation. Where do you stand?

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