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Is It Really a Surprise That Americans Have Little Confidence in Government?

The AP poll showing widespread skepticism about government in both parties also shows us the reason why: the fatal flaw in democratic progressivism.

The National Mall will be legally closed to the public during a government shutdown. (Image source: Shutterstock)

On January 25, PBS Newshour posted this Associated Press story: "AP Poll: Public has little faith in government's problem-solving ability."

It detailed an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll taken in December that "found more than 6 in 10 respondents expressed only slight confidence -- or none at all -- that the federal government can make progress on the problems facing the nation in 2016." (Apparently, the other 30-some percent don't read TheBlaze.)

The National Mall will be legally closed to the public during a government shutdown. (Image source: Shutterstock) (Image source: Shutterstock) 

The big question, of course, is why does government work so poorly? The answers are implicit in the comments of three citizens who participated in the AP poll and were interviewed in the AP story that PBS posted.

Lee Cato, 71 and a Democrat, decried the swarm of lobbyists who get Congress to bestow favors on special interests instead of doing things "for you and me." Without realizing that she is doing it, Ms. Cato brings to light the fundamental flaw of progressivism.

The first question we address in my Public Policy course is: What is the proper role of government?

To our country's founding fathers, the answer was simple and clear: To uphold and protect the "unalienable" God-given rights of individuals. Government's role was not to provide for us economically, but to keep us free so that we could prosper through our own efforts and peaceful cooperation with others -- to guard our liberty, not to give us things. As the poet Walt Whitman put it, "...government can do little positive good to the people...[instead government should] make no more laws than those useful for preventing a man or body of men from infringing on the rights of other men." [Emphases in original.]

Progressivism is a 180-degree reversal of the founders' philosophy of government. Its central tenet is that the government should intervene in the economic realm for the benefit of the people. Progressivism opens a Pandora's box, for once it is accepted that government should help A and B, then C, D, and the rest start to demand that government should help them, too. Once government is seen as the guarantor of certain economic goods (e.g., food, shelter), then why shouldn't it help with income, retirement, education, health care, transportation, etc., etc.?

The result of opening the floodgates to virtually unlimited government intervention in our economic affairs is that the people like Ms. Cato, the Democrat who looks to Washington for something "for you and me," get lost in the shuffle. Thus, millions of people who believe in the progressive Santa Claus don't feel they are benefiting enough, even while progressive politicians are running the show and redistributing trillions of dollars while spending us into national bankruptcy.

Doris Wagner, an 81-year-old Republican quoted in the AP article, highlights another key component of this dysfunctional political reality.

She complains that Congress can't "pass anything that's of any importance," adding, "It's so self-serving what they do."

Precisely! In a democratic system, members of Congress find that the key to electoral success (i.e., their own career advancement) is to win the support (especially the financial support) of key constituencies. Thus, in the mad scramble to stay in the legislature, members of Congress have more incentive to defend the privileges of special interests than to address controversial and pressing national problems.

A third respondent to the poll, 49-year old Joe Flood, an independent, cited the "bureaucratic behemoth" that the executive branch has become, as well as the gridlocked partisan Congress, as the reasons why "government can't get anything done." He is right on.

Massive government interventions into our economic affairs necessarily require large administrative bodies to oversee and regulate such activity. Everyone reading this knows how clumsy, wasteful, oppressive, and counterproductive bureaucracies are. According to the The Global Competitiveness Report, 2015-2016, (see Index 1.09) the U.S. now ranks 51st out of 140 countries in terms of the burden that bureaucratic regulation imposes on our economy.

Democratic progressivism is one of the greatest frauds in history. It promises freedom and prosperity, but inevitably produces a gargantuan government that eventually stifles economic growth and gradually diminishes liberty. As the late Yogi Berra, said, "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice; in practice, there is."

Democratic progressivism may sound good in the abstract, but in the real world, it inevitably suffocates itself.

The great political error that human beings make in throwing their support to political movements that promise a much better world through the exercise of government power is the self-deceived assumption that those who amass such power will exercise it in the way that we think is just -- which usually means, that the power will be used to help us, not all those other special interests out there. As surely as Stalin turned on many of his erstwhile supporters and liquidated them, so inevitably, Big Government, even in a democratic system, will end up harming most of those who looked to it for benefactions.

The bottom line here is that we Americans need to understand that our government is paralyzed, broken, bankrupt, dysfunctional, and ill-suited to address external threats to our country precisely because it is based on an unviable, inherently self-destructive theory and practice of government: democratic progressivism. I suspect that we are stuck in this morass until cataclysmic events trigger a paradigm shift -- either to a more explicit dictatorial system such as the left favors, or to a rebirth of liberty which those of us on the right favor.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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