Free Markets, Free People

Was Colin Powell Wrong?

Colin Powell said that it appeared to him that Americans not only wanted more government services, but were willing to pay for them. Michale Barone, who is probably one of the better poll interpreters out there, looks at a gaggle of them and isn’t so sure Powell is right (Powell has since become concerned with Obama’s expansion of government and spending):

Last month’s Washington Post/ABC poll reported that Americans favor smaller government with fewer services to larger government with more services by a 54 to 41 percent margin — a slight uptick since 2004. The percentage of Independents favoring small government rose to 61 percent from 52 percent in 2008. The June NBC/Wall Street Journal poll reported that, even amid recession, 58 percent worry more about keeping the budget deficit down versus 35 percent worried more about boosting the economy. A similar question in the June CBS/New York Times poll showed a 52 to 41 percent split.

Other polls show a resistance to specific Democratic proposals. Pollster Whit Ayres reports that 58 percent of voters agree that reforming health care, while important, should be done without raising taxes or increasing the deficit. Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that 56 percent of Americans are unwilling to pay more in taxes or utility rates to generate cleaner energy and fight global warming.

Of course the fun of all this is to try and determine what all of that means. Analysis is then turned into political action – or so it is supposed to go. But the problem is determining what “Americans favor smaller government with fewer services” really means. Like “hope and change” everyone has their own idea of what “smaller government” is, and my guess is it isn’t much smaller than it is now if at all. Instead, poll respondents may be saying they don’t want it to get much bigger.

Probably the most interesting trend in these cited polls is the movement of Independents away from what can only be favoring a big government Democrat. Anyone who actually paid attention to the campaign of Barack Obama and didn’t realize he was a guy who was fully invested in big government and sweeping federal programs shouldn’t have voted.

Reality is here now. All the “hope and change” hoopla has finally boiled down to intrusive and very expensive government programs such as cap-and-trade and health care reform. The election bill is coming due. Yet, if these polls are to be believed, the majority of Americans – while still favoring Obama personally with high approval ratings – are not at all happy with the direction the Democrats are taking the country.

This apparent recoil against big government policies has not gone unnoticed by Americans. Gallup reported earlier this week that 39 percent of Americans say their views on political issues have grown more conservative, while only 18 say they have grown more liberal. Moderates agreed by a 33 to 18 percent margin.

What has driven much of this shift in opinion is the economic downturn and the problem the average American has understanding the huge deficit spending policies of this administration. He certainly understands that the same policies applied to his household would be an unmitigated disaster. So common sense opposes deficit spending, especially at the unheard of levels this administration has committed itself too. Thus far, too, the economy hasn’t responded, and job losses continue unabated. As with all politics, the proof of any policy is in its execution, and the execution of the stimulus has been awful, to be charitable.

That leads to a loss of confidence. But it also leads to a little soul searching on the part of those who’ve agreed, with their vote, to give the Democrats a chance. They’re now beginning to wonder if they made a mistake. The economy is tanking, unemployment is 2.5 points above where they said it would be unless they passed the stimulus, and they’re talking about tacking two monstrous tax and spend programs (cap-and-trade and health care) on top of it all.

No wonder the nation is growing more “conservative”. Of course, again, it is up to the political analysts to try to determine what “more conservative” really means and convert that to votes for their side. I have every confidence that the GOP won’t have a clue how to do either the analysis or the conversion, but these polls seem to indicate that there is a lot for the right to exploit politically. However, distracted by the Palin/Sanford/Ensign nonsense, and without a strong voice to make their case, I’m sure they’ll miss this opportunity completely.

That’s not to say the Democrats won’t self-destruct as they’ve always done in the past, however, Republicans need to rally and stop both cap-and-trade and health care “reform” in their tracks. It seems, if these polls are to be believed, that they have the support of the public. The question is, do they have the ability to form the necessary political coalitions to stop this huge expansion of government in Congress or not? If not, taking it apart later isn’t as easy as one thinks. Very few programs, once passed into law, are ever discontinued at a later date.

However, the unfortunate part is if the GOP does successfully stop this legislation, they’ll be roundly demonized by the left, something the left does very well and the GOP defends against very poorly. Their inclination, then, is compromise. And that means accepting the premise the Dems are floating but trying to make its impact smaller and less intrusive. That, most likely, will be what we’ll end up with – and if so, the GOP will deservedly be tagged as a “bi-partisan” part of the disaster that follows and will have killed their only possible electoral advantage.

If the GOP wants back in this thing, they’ve got to assume Colin Powell was wrong (and the polls seem to suggest that), reject the premises contained in both cap-and-trade and health care reform completely and unify as the “party of smaller and less intrusive government”. That’s how they regain power. To retain it, however, they’ll have to walk the smaller government walk instead of, as they did last time, becoming Democrat-lite. And that’s where they always fail.


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15 Responses to Was Colin Powell Wrong?

  • “they’ll have to walk the smaller government walk instead, as they did last time, becoming Democrat-lite.”
    huh? Is that what you ment to say? You think they should continue the dem lite routine?

  • McQColin Powell said that it appeared to him that Americans not only wanted more government services, but were willing to pay for them.

    I think that Powell is fundamentally right: Americans DO what a nanny state and ARE willing to pay for it… but only to a certain degree.  Further, paying for the desired nanny state is more acceptable when economic times are good: everybody has a good job and plenty of money, so it’s no big deal to pay an extra $20 or $50 per paycheck to Uncle Sugar for “charitable” purposes.  Additonally, people are willing to let Uncle Sugar steal a certain amount of their pay but start to bridle when they perceive that the “take” is liable to get much larger in a short amount of time.  Finally, people get very upset when they perceive that the money is going, not to “helping” people, but to paying deadbeats to lay around and not have to work.  This was the anger that led to welfare reform back during Slick Willie’s term.

    The trick for the GOP (and for the democrats, actually) is to find the happy medium: the level of government spending / intrusion that gives people the warm-n-fuzzy that, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help” without making them feel like they’re being fleeced or supporting a huge number of deadbeats.  (Please note that I personally am of the opinion that NOTHING in the Constitution allows the federal government to be in the charity business, nor does it allow Washington to regulate our lives to any great extent at all.  However, as a matter of practical politics, I don’t think that the pure conservative / libertarian dream of a small federal government is a winning platform).

    • McQ and Docjim, it’s actually more complex than A or B. You both are correlating the desire for bigger government with the desire to pay for bigger government. They’re not necessarily linked. Powell would be correct if he said most Americans want a bigger government, provided that *others* pay for it. Remember what Milton Friedman said about spending your money on yourself, spending your money on someone else, someone else spending others’ money on you, and someone else spending your money on others.

      There are, what, 100 million people in the U.S. who pay any significant amount of taxes? They’re the ones supporting the health care, education and various bailouts of the other 200 million. Granted there’s family overlap, but elections prove that more people will vote for a candidate who will give them this and that, paid for by their neighbors. This will keep happening as long as those who benefit more from government than they pay in have an equal voice.

      We can spend all eternity blaming it on entrenched incumbents and campaign finance reform that protects them, on voter stupidity or apathy, but the heart of the problem is this absurd “democracy.” Two wolves and a lamb.

      • FWIW, my thought is that democracy is fine… so long as everybody understands that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t get that concept. One sees it on the news when some dimwit is interviewed and says (for example) that, “The government needs to pay for X, because otherwise the taxpayers will have to!” I recall reading a poll that indicated that a significant number of Americans think that the government has “its own money”, as if Washington gets revenue from some magical source other than taxation.

        Americans are a rich, generous and sentimental people: nobody likes the idea that somebody is suffering in our country, especially when one sees so many signs of oppulence all around us. Is it right that Paul should be cold or hungry or sick when Peter is driving around in a Lexus? For many people, the answer is “no”. In general, even Peter would agree, and hence he doesn’t mind shelling out a few bucks in taxes to help Paul. There is a long-held belief in America, going back to the days of the Puritans, that we CAN make a better society if we come up with the right rules and EVERYBODY DOES HIS PART. The belief is not socialist / communist; most Americans don’t want some sort of worker’s paradise. Rather, its origins are religious and especially Protestant / Christian: the “good” man gives to those less fortunate.

        The virtue of generosity becomes a vice when one combines it with another long-standing American tradition: that of FORCING people to “do good”. The social conservative forces people to be good by outlawing “bad” behavior (drinking, drug use, homosexuality, etc); the liberal forces people to be good by making them give away huge chunks of their money for “good” causes (welfare, free medical care, etc).

        Unless and until we get away from the idea in America that people can be forced to be not just peaceful but also VIRTUOUS, we’re going to have politicians robbing us of our money and our liberty with obnoxious laws.

  • I think that a large number of Americans want the nanny state because they don’t understand that they’re paying for it.  Or they believe that they’ll be paying a disproportionately low portion of the bill directly.  If you don’t pay taxes (or pay very few) but you’re getting services, you feel as if you’re getting the better of the deal.  And when you’re complaining about how bad services are, or how the quality of life has dropped, or how unemployment has risen, you don’t make the connection.  When you only recognize the benefits of a plan, and are unable to make the connection with the negative effects, you tend to support an otherwise bad idea.

  • The problem is that both parties are composed of authoritarians who want to use the power they have acquired once they are elected.

    A national government that stuck to its enumerated responsibilities would get my vote. There isn’t one, it’s the nature of the beast.

  • The engine of America’s economy has always been small business.  Businesses look forward.  If the direction an administration is moving is pro-business, they invest.  If it is anti-business, they adjust their planning to compensate.  The problem we have today is uncertainty.  No one knows what Obama and an out of control Congress will do next.

    Only a fool would start a business in an environment of increasing government regulation, punitive taxes, aggressive unionization, “skyrocketing” energy costs,  open disregard for rights of property owners and no respect for the rule of law. Until this uncertainty disappears, we will be in a recession without end. 

    If the republicans want to regain power, they must not compromise on cap & trade or health care.

  • Colin Powell simply endorsed the guy based on race, but he needed some other reason upon which to base his endorsement, hence this excuse.

    Now that the guy has beclowned himself on both sides of the spectrum, we can move along.

    I have no faith the GOP will rally to stop Obamacare or Cap+Trade. Oh, they may gain some seats back and may even get enough to stymie the rest of Baracky’s agenda, but it will be too late. He knows his shelf life is limited and he’s already all in.

  • The nation is not turning more conservative.  Not yet anyway.  Every generation or so people have to learn again the hard way that there is no free lunch.  When we are wallowing in inflation and upper teens unemployment, then there might be a movement towards freedom.  Much in the way that many of my generation became conservative or libertarian, not so much due to the influence of Ronald Reagan, but due to the horror of the Carter administration.

  • What needs to be done is to remove forever the “cult of the private” which privileges the private sector and private interests and wants over the public good.   That damages civil society and is a threat to democracy.  Obama is on the right track in starting that process, and I believe the public is ready for it.  The narcissism of saying “go for your short term interests and don’t worry about societal good” (some even denying the existence of society!) has caused this economic crisis.   That culture started back in the early eighties when our current account balance went from positive to negative, when debt started to pile up, and when the ‘something for nothing’ mentality took over.  It is destroying us.  It must be stopped — it is damaging our political system, our value system and the essence of what is America.

  • No thank you.  The thing that damages civil society and democracy is this idiotic fetish for collectivism.

    Until you can tell me who gets to decide what the “common good” is, sod off you cheap Marxist huckster.

    MY interests trump the “common good” any day and if you don’t like it, go pound sand.

  • Democracy is immoral. It’s the theft by a voting majority (which can be a plurality) from those who didn’t muster enough numbers. It doesn’t matter if a gazillion people less one vote for something; it still doesn’t make it proper or just.
    Liberals deliberately blur the big difference between “moral obligation” and “legal obligation.” If Paul is cold and hungry, Peter has a moral obligation, but there is (or rather, shouldn’t be) any legal obligation. Government should have no role in making Peter responsible for Paul, because otherwise it’s socialism. And socialism, simply, is a form of involuntary servitude.
    By linking the two different obligations, liberals have succeeded in expanding the welfare state since the start of this so-called republic. The Protestant “social gospel” movement for a century began with government “help” as a supplement to private charity. Well, people respond to incentives, and eventually private charitable contributions dwindled as government “help” increased. It’s just like how Social Security was supposed to be only a supplement, but people eventually figured they didn’t need to save anything on their own.
    The Clintons’ attempt to take over health care in 1994 failed because the American people still needed over a decade of softening up. So the mainstream media bombarded us with sob story after sob story, opening up more Americans to socialism like “stimulus” and “universal health care.” Today there are hundreds of millions of Americans who are so deluded into thinking it can work, because, after all, the rich can be taxed for it.
    If everyone is “to do his part,” then leaders need to set examples themselves — and I’m not talking about Michelle Obama serving soup or planting vegetables — instead of forcing others. Now, the Puritans were often moral tyrants who could preach Christ while damning someone to the gallows, so I personally wouldn’t use them as an example. The Quakers and Amish, though, are excellent examples, and you will see that their societies were entirely about voluntary association. Remember the movie “Witness”? A young couple got married, so everyone in the town got together of his and her free will to build them a new barn. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
    There’s an organization that calls itself “The Matthew 25 Group,” and they sure as hell don’t live up to their name. Jesus talked about voluntarily helping others. In no passage did he ever talk about government assistance. Everything was supposed to be from the individual.