A Clear and Present Threat

Howard Rich

10/28/2010 12:01:00 AM - Howard Rich

A new Gallup poll shows that forty-six percent of Americans believe the federal government “poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.”

The other fifty-four percent? Obviously they aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in their country.

At first glance, this statistic has barely budged from where it was four years ago – when Democrats seized control of the U.S. Congress. A look at the partisan breakdown of respondents tells a different story, however. Just prior to the 2006 elections, fifty-seven percent of Democrats felt threatened by the government compared to just 21 percent of Republicans. Today those numbers have flip-flopped – with sixty-six percent of Republicans feeling threatened compared to only 21 percent of Democrats. Meanwhile, the number of independents who feel threatened by the government has remained steady at roughly 50 percent – although that number is seven points higher than when Gallup first asked this question in 2003.

This data highlights several political truisms – most notably the ability of absolute power to corrupt absolutely (no matter which party is in charge), as well as the misplaced faith that certain segments of the electorate still place in the two-party system.

“This complacency is very unfortunate,” writes Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “Republicans presumably want to limit government control over the economy, yet it was the Bush Administration that put in place policies such as Sarbanes-Oxley, the banana-republic TARP bailout, the corrupt farm bills, and the pork-filled transportation bills. Democrats, meanwhile, presumably want to protect our civil liberties, yet the Obama Administration has left in place virtually all of the Bush policies that the left was upset about just two years ago.”

Indeed Republicans and Democrats in Washington have not only collaborated to ring up record deficits over the past decade, they’ve also joined forces to dismantle the free market and steadily erode our civil liberties.

These numbers show something else, though. They are a reminder that the GOP wave likely to wash over Washington this fall is drawing significant strength from unflinching independents – or voters whose convictions are not swayed by partisan rhetoric. Should Republicans achieve the gains many are predicting for them this year, the unavoidable reality is that they will be held accountable by a much more engaged, much more libertarian-leaning constituency that bears little resemblance to the GOP of a decade ago.

The modern GOP emerged from the realigned South – which emphasized religion, morality and tradition – and from Westerners who have always valued our founding ideals of independence and privacy. This “South-West Axis” formed a potent electoral alliance that began producing consistent Republican wins beginning in 1968. In fact prior to the two most recent election cycles, this axis was only really derailed once – by Watergate.

The “South-West Axis” also swept the GOP to a landslide Congressional victory in 1994, despite generic ballot polling that showed Democrats with a slim majority over Republicans just days before the election. Yet every time America has handed Republicans the car keys, GOP politicians have crashed and burned – even when the handwriting was clearly on the wall.

“As the Republican Party embraces the big government it once fought against, and increasingly stakes its political fortunes on cultural hot-buttons such as gay marriage and flag burning, libertarian-minded voters are up for grabs,” one political analyst wrote during the summer of 2006. And indeed they were. As a result of the GOP’s failure to adhere to its founding principles, Republicans lost thirty House seats and six Senate seats in 2006. Two years later the party lost another twenty-one House seats, eight Senate seats and the presidency.

In both of these elections, Democrats capitalized on Republicans’ fiscal excesses. For example, prior to the 2006 election sixty-five percent of voters agreed that “Republicans used to be the party of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and limited government, but in recent years, too many Republicans in Washington have become just like the big spenders that they used to oppose.” Two years later, that number had climbed to eighty percent.

Meanwhile, 2008 polling in swing states like Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Virginia (all of which were carried by Barack Obama) showed that voters trusted Democrats more than Republicans to keep federal spending in check – turning conventional political wisdom on its ear.

The truth is that both parties have demonstrated a contempt for American freedom and free markets that has pushed our nation into its current economic malaise.

The only good news? With unconstitutional individual mandates, massive tax hikes and crushing debt payments looming, it won’t be long before the rest of the country realizes just what a threat to their liberties their own government has become.