Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gallup poll on the growth of Federal power: racism on the Left

As a general rule, I distrust polls, especially those polls intended to address the mood of a society, to capture it's general feelings about an issue, or to gauge its inherent racism or the like. Because societies are not monolithic entities and do not actually possess any of these characteristics, cultural zeitgeists notwithstanding.

That said, polling data can most certainly indicate what views are most common within a society, or a portion thereof, and similarly be used to indicate how popular a given concept or idea actually is, even how well it is understood. Witness some of the international polling data on 9-11. From it, we can learn a lot of things. For instance, it indicates the continued existence of widespread Antisemitism in Egypt, as some 43% of respondents actually believe Israel orchestrated the attacks. And it demonstrates something of a disconnect between Muslim nations in the Middle East and ones in Africa, as less than 50% of respondents in the former believe al Qaeda was behind the attacks, while over 70% in the latter accept al Qaeda as the culprit.

We cannot say, from such data, that a given country believes anything, but we can say what the common perceptions are about a given idea, be that idea an event, a policy, or even a trend. With that in mind, take a look at the results from Gallup's latest polling data on Americans' perceptions of the extent of Federal power:

The fact that some 7% of the population consistently thinks the federal government has too little power is of course quite troubling, all on its own (that works out to more than one person in every fifteen), but more significant is the somewhat steady increase in the number of people who think the federal government has too much power and the corresponding decrease in the number who think the federal government has just about the right amount. From 2002 until the present, the former has increased by a whopping 53% (from 39% to 60%). The latter has decreased by 38% (from 52% to 32%). That's a full 20% of the population who have changed positions, who have--for lack of a better way to say it--gone over to the Dark Side (actually, a better way to say it would be "have recognized the truth").

Of course, there's an obvious partisan angle that needs to be addressed here. And thankfully, Gallup breaks down the belief in too much power according to party affiliation:

This sheds a little more light on things. Under the previous administration, more and more Democrats--to a peak of over half--came to believe the federal government had too much power. The same is actually true of both Republicans and Independents, as well (the former peaked at 55%, the latter at 62%). Under the current administration--that of President Obama--the number of Republicans with this belief shot up, while the number of Democrats fell off a cliff. The Independents? Well, their numbers have meandered a bit, but have definitely trended up.

Since 2002, the percentage of Republicans who see the Federal government as too powerful has increased by--wait for it--a massive 125%! The percentage of Independents with this view has gone up by 86%. Democrats? That percentage has--thanks to a recent spike--increased by about 9%. Though as of 2012, it had actually decreased by 20%.

Some points to think about:

First, why the recent spike for all groups? It's tough to say with absolute certainty, but it's probably a consequence of the NSA surveillance scandal. And perhaps--to a much lesser extent, with regard to the Democrats--the IRS targeting scandal.

Second, why the huge increase for Republicans after the election of Obama? Well, I'm certain that many on the Left would posit that this was a consequence of deep-seated racism in the Republican Party, a wholly reactionary thing to a black man being elected President of the United States. I have no doubt that there was such a reaction among some, but not for the vast majority. Because the trend line was already going up for Republicans, even under Bush (which, by the way, points to a reality the Left just can't accept: the roots of the Tea Party movement extend back into the Bush era). And TARP--the bailout bill--was initiated by Bush. Obama took office and immediately pushed through the Stimulus Bill on top of TARP. That's the real explanation, right there. The Tea Party crowd was furious about both and their influence in the Republican Party was growing rapidly.

Third, why the steady increase across all groups under Bush? I'd guess the Patriot Act was to blame, by and large, for that. But if so, why the drop off after the election of Obama for the Democrats? The "Hope and Change" Obama promised in this regard may account for the initial drop off, but when that change--with regard to things like the Patriot Act and Guantanamo--never came to pass, why did the percentages stay so low? If there are racist idiots in the Republican Party who distrust Obama as a matter of course, then I'd posit there are just as many idiots in the Democratic Party (who are also actually racists) unwilling to find fault with Obama for anything he does, simply because of his race.

What other explanation is there, really? What steps has Obama taken--anywhere--that can be characterized as leading to a decrease in Federal power? If 57% of Democrats believed the Federal government was too powerful under Bush, how can only 38% believe it's too powerful under Obama? What's moved the needle down?

Any honest assessment of Obama's Presidency must allow that Federal power has increased in general (as has executive power in particular) at the very least. From new federal programs like Obamacare to the increase of regulatory oversight by bureaucracies like the EPA to more Federal involvement in education with Common Core Standards, such incremental increases in Federal power are easy enough to list. And they are opposed by what? Obama's failure to shut down Gitmo? The revelation of an even more extensive domestic surveillance program? I take back my first statement: an honest assessment requires one to admit federal power has increased as a matter of fact.

There is a legitimate counter here, that the things the Obama Administration has done are Good Things, necessary things. But such a position is intellectually inconsistent with the idea that the government had too much power under Bush, though not under Obama. It fails to explain the reversal in the numbers for Democrats. In contrast, the numbers for both Independents and Republicans are very easy to explain, wholly within the context of actual government actions and policies. The racism angle--as a means of explaining these latter numbers--is not necessary at all.

In contrast, the change in numbers for Democrats is fully explainable only on the basis of dishonesty, stupidity, outright racism, or a combination of the three. Some Democrats were either being dishonest during the Bush years or are being dishonest now for wholly partisan reasons, because it is again simply not tenable to argue that federal power has receded under Obama. Some Democrats are just stupid and don't have a real strong grasp on the matter of federal power (and hey, let's be fair, there are certainly some Republicans and Independents in that same boat). And some Democrats are simply unwilling to offer any views that are critical of Obama because of his race.

It is almost a certainty that the truth involves all three, but I think the last is both the most worrisome and the most significant. For it speaks to a mindset that substitutes self-satisfaction for honesty, for intellectual rigor. Those unwilling to find fault with Obama because of his race are--regardless of their own race--doing a disservice to him and to society as a whole. Obama is a big boy, the elected leader of the United States. He deserves to be treated as such, to have his actions and choices analyzed on the same basis as those of any other President. Democrats who refuse to do this are clearly, in my opinion, far more concerned with their own egos and their own perceived reputations. They've reached the mistaken--and fundamentally racist--conclusion that showing support for Obama is more important than pretty much anything else.

Cheers, all.

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