Ilana Mercer, January 23, 2004

Judging from the close agreement between public opinion polls and government policy, the crowds – and not the elites – are generally in control of the country.


According to a recently released Washington Post-ABC News poll, even the greatest point of contention in the Bush platform – Iraq – is controversial only to a degree. Americans approve of how Bush is handling the situation in Iraq by, admittedly, only an anorexic majority of 55 percent. The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations’ comprehensive 2002 study of American Public Opinion and Foreign Policy does indeed confirm that foreign policy is where the divide between American leaders and citizens is deepest.


However, stalwart opponents of this war of aggression should not rejoice prematurely. What’s in dispute here is not the wholehearted American commitment to internationalism and world leadership – only Bush’s unilateral exercise of power: “Americans strongly support multilateral action,” the Chicago Council’s survey concludes. Otherwise, Americans trust Bush and not the Democrats to do a better job in Iraq as well as in the campaign against terrorism.


According to the Post-ABC poll and the Chicago Council’s acclaimed survey, foremost on American minds is the health of the economy. And Americans go as far as to say that they trust the Democrats to better handle the economy than Bush. Since the Democrats are every bit the proponents of a big welfare state that Bush is, it’s reasonable to conclude that voters simply want more of what the Democrats traditionally deliver.


The preference that those surveyed give Democrats in handling taxes further confirms this inference. Still, could it be that Americans are skeptical of Bush’s tax cuts because these coincide with his bacchanalia of spending? That, I’m afraid, is wishful thinking. Democrats, while promising to repeal tax cuts for the “rich,” have committed the money to more welfare programs, not to paying the deficit. The vote of confidence for the Democrats’ economic priorities more likely stems from Americans’ express and unchanging desire to get a grab bag of goodies while also soaking the “rich.”


The federal budget deficit is a tricky issue for the multitude. They generally disapprove of George W. Bush’s drunken-sailor scruples on matters fiscal. But it’s a superficial, selective and short-lived disdain. Fittingly, it prompted only a frivolous promise from Bush to limit discretionary spending. Why bother, when the people’s aversion to deficit spending doesn’t include any objection to continual splurges on entitlement programs?


How else does one interpret the disgruntled response to Bush’s unrivaled prescription-drug benefits for the elderly? Those polled give a vote of confidence to the Democrats on this count. This is not due to an understanding of the imperative to curb spending, but because the Medicare entitlement expansion fails to quench the voters’ Falstaffian appetites. The majorities Bush depends on want even more “free” stuff than they’re getting.


Which is precisely why the president was on a firm foundation politically when he vowed during the address that he would veto any effort to repeal the more-or-less open-ended drug-benefit entitlement to the richest and evidently greediest segment of the population – baby boomers. (Ironic, isn’t it, that a president who has yet to veto a spending bill threatens to veto a possible objection to one?)


And it’s also why Bush was only playing by the polls when he promised to throw more money into the sinkhole of education. Again, our poll gives a slight preference here to the Democrats despite the fact that under Bush, spending on education has jumped by three-fifths.


The “Jobs for the 21st Century” welfare initiative, unveiled in the speech as a “comprehensive plan to better prepare workers for jobs in the new millennium,” is likely to see government spend what it doesn’t have, in order to train the unemployed for jobs and careers it has no way of predicting will materialize. But years of polling prove that government involvement in job creation and protection is what voters want.


Why do you imagine policy makers (and speech writers) quickly deflated the Moon ‘n Mars trial balloon Bush had floated? Our poll indicates that American feet remain firmly planted on planet Earth – there is little good will toward such mad maneuvers.


However, Bush’s plan to launder illegal aliens is an anomaly, inasmuch as it contradicts my contention that public policy reflects the values and wishes of the voting majority: incontestable majorities want to see legal immigration reduced and illegal immigrants removed.


The president’s smuggling operation is what the howling coyotes at the Fox News channel would call a show of leadership: When pols generally give the public what they want, they can afford to sock it to them on some contested issues. On this issue Bush knows he needn’t fear payback via plebiscite, since the Democrats too refuse to carry out the will of the majority vis-?-vis immigration.


The many points of congruence between public policy and what most Americans say they want reflect a political process that is by no means a top-down affair. Sadly, they demonstrate a democratic dalliance between crude and corrupt majorities and their equally incorrigible rulers.


Or, as some wag once wrote, “Politicians, like water, cannot rise higher than their source.”



   January 23, 2004

CATEGORIES: Bush, Foreign Policy, Socialized Medicine, Welfare State

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