One of my favorite writers, Erick Erickson, recently referred to "a time (when) distrust of government is commonly held sentiment." Trusting government has three dimentions: are they trying to do the right things?; are they competent to do them?; and, are they corrupt? Most of the political energy goes into the first question - and reasonable people can reasonably disagree on the particulars - but small government conservatives point to the second and third questions as perhaps equally important.
First some Gallup Poll perspective on today's attitudes (November 2012) relative to the past few decades. In answer to the question "How much of the time do you think you can trust government in Washington to do what is right" the recent reading is 19% for "just about always or most of the time" - about on a par with the Clinton years and half to a third of the George W Bush years. That breaks down to 67% for the judiciary, 56% for the executive, and 34% for Congress (House and Senate). The whole is less than the sum of the parts.
There are a number of examples which are seeping into the consciousness of the public who want things from government, but are increasingly doubtful about the ability of the public sector to deliver:
- Obamacare. Despite explicit and repeated promises, people are seeing double digit increases in their insurance costs and millions are being forced to fend for themselves as employers don't hire or drop insurance coverage for their employees.
- Budgets. For years the Democrats have been opposed to even the concept of budgets, and with sequestration the administration has threatened to veto any legislation which would allow judgement about what costs should be cut.
- Benghazi. In the capstone of the Arab Spring, the administration put State Department personnel in an unnecessarily dangerous position, did not take action when they came under attack, deliberately deceived the public about the nature of the attack, and has been totally unsuccessful in pursuing the perpetrators.
- Bridges. For a bit of local flavor, we have the $6.4 billion, two and a half decades in development, Bay Bridge which has been re-built with 1200 large bolts which violate industry technical standards and are failing prior to a planned Fall grand opening. And the same gang is starting on a doomed $68 billion High Speed Rail project.
It is fairly easy to make the case that the gusher of money in the Stimulus Plan contributed to the most federal corruption since Warren Harding. A few examples:
- Solyndra. In the poster child for the Obama administration's favoritism for large contributors and bad business judgement, the Department of Energy lost over $400 million on this solar panel company, and then illegally allowed a restructure of debt which made the contributor whole.
- MF Global. Former Goldman Sachs chairman, Democratic governor of New Jersey, and US Senator Jon Corzine illegally used over $1 billion in customer account funds to cover his bad company bets on European bonds. While some of the money has been recovered, no criminal charges are being considered.
- Farmer Reparations. In a program with few controls and rife with fraud, the Department of Agriculture has given over $3 billion in "reparations for discrimination between 1981 and 1999" to African American, Hispanic, American Indian, and women farmers. Verification requirements are like the previous "no income/no assets/no job" mortgage requirements that let to the housing collapse.
- The Attorney General. Google "Eric Holder/corruption" to read about Fast and Furious, the New Black Panther Party, and the rebirth of ACORN, as well as his warm-up tour in the Clinton administration.
The public's political attitudes swing in long arcs. One benefit of President Obama's re-election is that people will have a full eight years to recalibrate on what government can really do - regardless of what they might want it to do.