Paul Jacob

The latest Pew Research Center survey of public opinion shows that Americans trust their government even less than they did before. Apparently, nearly half of us think “the federal government threatens” our “personal rights and freedoms,” while almost a third considers the Feds a “major threat.”

The body designed to represent the views of the American people — the U.S. Congress — has the approval of less than one in five of us.

Game Change FREE

The Pew people dub the current political situation “a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government — a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”

Yet, one would be mistaken to view current public unrest as a sharp break from recent times. In 2006, the country repudiated the corrupt, wasteful and dangerous policies and performance of congressional Republicans by voting them out and Democrats in. By the next summer the new Democratic Congress was pulling the lowest approval ratings in the history of the Gallup poll.

The depth of political discontent was clear — and fully bipartisan — long before the latest economic troubles hit. No doubt, a bad economy makes political frustrations more volatile for incumbents, and a good economy can lull the public to sleep on the need for political reform and engagement.

Clearly, however, the origin of our political frustration and anger — the emotions felt by 77 percent of Americans, according to the Pew survey — simply cannot be the bad economy.

Dissatisfaction with our politics — as practiced by both establishment parties — isn’t new. It has been festering for decades, with regular eruptions.

In the late 1970s, a citizen petition to roll back and cap property taxes, California’s Proposition 13, passed against the united political class. Within a few years, the tax revolt it sparked had succeeded in lowering property taxes or capping any increases in 43 other states.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.