29 November 2012

The contradictory voice of the people

Here's an interesting tidbit I turned up while reading an article in The New Republic. John B. Judis writes: "According to 2012 exit polls, a majority of Americans think government is 'doing too many things better left to individuals and businesses.'" If it's an exit poll, then Judis means a majority of American voters. A majority of American voters also re-elected President Obama, who was portrayed by his opponents as believing the opposite of what the exit-polled majority had affirmed. The re-election of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives seems more consistent with the exit poll but the presidential election is presumably the more definitive statement of the American people as a whole. So have the American people contradicted themselves? How do we account for this? Judis himself suggests: "[T]his distrust has always co-existed with support for specific initiatives. When elections hinge on abstractions and unrealized programs, as the 2010 election partly did, Republicans fare well. When they hinge on specifics -- like the auto bailout or taxes for the wealthy -- Democrats often thrive." In addition, it doesn't follow from a belief that government does "too many things" better left to the private sector that someone believes that all things government does, or even nearly all, are better left to the private sector. In other words, one may believe that government is doing "too much" without endorsing authentic Republican doctrine or wanting government to do as close to nothing as possible. As well, while the exit poll elicits a statement of principle, it doesn't address whether circumstances may require government to do what it normally shouldn't. If the exit poll accurately describes Americans' general principles, it may indicate where the critical divide in politics actually lies. We may not be divided so much between those who would limit government's scope and those who see no necessary limit to it as between those who recognize when exceptions should be made to a general principle of hands-off government and those dogmatically opposed to any exceptions. If so, Mitt Romney wasn't defeated by a mob of willing dependents upon omnipotent government, but by a voting majority convinced that, when individuals and businesses fail, government has to step in. This presumed majority was presumably unpersuaded by the argument that we should instead affirm our belief in fairies by clapping our hands until Tinker Belle wakes up, or by throwing money at her -- excuse me: by "letting Tink keep more of her money." To sum up, it doesn't follow from a belief that government does many things we'd prefer individuals and businesses to do that we believe that only individuals and businesses can save us. The American people believe one thing, apparently, and the Republican party believes the other. If voters nationwide believed that about Mitt Romney, it helps explain why he lost.

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