The Washington Post takes a look at what's really behind America's view of government in the Tea Party era and completely misses the point., whether by accident or by deliberately being obtuse.
A new study by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University shows that most Americans who say they want more limited government also call Social Security and Medicare "very important." They want Washington to be involved in schools and to help reduce poverty. Nearly half want the government to maintain a role in regulating health care.
The study suggests that come January, politicians in both parties will confront a challenging and sometimes contradictory reality about what Americans really think about their government. Although Republicans, and many Democrats, have tried to demonize Washington, they must contend with the fact that most major government programs remain enormously popular, including some that politicians have singled out for stiff criticism.
The new survey also shows that although Democrats and Republicans have rarely seen eye to eye, the gap between the two has widened significantly over a decade of partisan polarization.
Fully 80 percent of Republicans say the government's priorities are misplaced, and just 6 percent express a lot of faith in government when it comes to fixing economic problems or dealing with Social Security.
More broadly, a nationwide report card on the government shows barely passing grades: Washington was a C student in a poll 10 years ago. Today, more than four in 10 people give the government a D or F.
Most of those who see the country as headed off-course put "a great deal" of blame on the government.
Overall, 55 percent of Americans say the government is not paying attention to the biggest issues. Similar percentages say the government does not use tax money wisely, is out of sync with their values and has not helped their families.
Half say the government has a big effect on their daily lives - up significantly from 10 years ago - but most of those say the impact is a negative one.
The Post article goes on this track at some length, trying in vain to reconcile the fact that people love social spending programs but at the same time the Wingnut fringe wants to see the government dismantled.
"I think the less the government governs us, the better we do," Norma Osuna, 48, said in a follow-up interview to the survey. A stay-at-home mother, she sees the country as going in a "socialistic" direction.
Nearly half of the 2,054 adults polled say the federal government threatens their personal liberties. There is a creeping sense - now shared by one in five Americans - that it is not possible for the federal government to be run well, given all the problems in the country.
And again, the Post just stumbles all over the map trying to reconcile the fact that one in five people basically want the federal government gone and for the states to run things, and that you'd better keep your damn hands off my Medicare and Social Security.
The answer is actually pretty simple. Americans, particularly Tea Party folks, love their own government programs. They just want to take those programs away from everyone not like them. Liberals see government programs and they think "How can I efficiently extend these benefits to as many people who truly need them as possible?" Tea Party folks say "How can I keep these benefits for people like myself and deny them to those people so I still get them?"
It's unfair to oversimplify the driving motives behind Tea Party conservativism and progressive liberalism to "selfish versus generous" and yet it does help explain part of the situation. No real contradiction here. Tea Partiers want theirs, and if that means you have to give up yours so they can get it, well...they're Real Americans, and you're not.
Post dances around this but never goes into it. But it does end with this:
A more radical proposition also has broad appeal: Fifty-six percent of those polled say things would be better if there were a national referendum system enabling all citizens to vote on major national issues. At least on this point, there is rare general agreement among Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Hey, Tea-ranny of the Majority again. What conservatives did to California as far as making it arguably the most ungovernable state in the nation, we want to do to the entire country. Just what we need, a national referendum system designed to pass every loopy Tea Party idea ever made and to drive people to the polls using social wedge issues.
Won't that be great?