Are we undergoing some kind of sea change of attitudes in America today?
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne reflects such sentiment -- perhaps I should say wishful thinking -- by those on the left that indeed we are. He says capitalism is having a "reality check."
The era of big government is back, according to Dionne. Americans now want to re-regulate, re-tax, redistribute, and re-socially engineer.
I don't think so.
What we do know is that Americans are unhappy with the state of their country (almost 85 percent say they are dissatisfied) and their political leaders (more than 70 percent are unhappy with their president and 90 percent are unhappy with the Congress).
Although enthusiasm for the Republican Party is without question on the wane, there is no accompanying surge of popularity of the Democratic Party.
According to recent reporting from the Pew Research Center, favorability ratings for the Republican Party have gone from 55 percent in 1993 to 39 percent in 2007 as unfavorable ratings increased from 35 percent to 53 percent. However, over the same period, favorability ratings for the Democratic Party have also declined, although more modestly -- from the high 50s in 1993 to the low 50s in 2007. And Democratic Party unfavorable ratings went up from around 35 percent to 41 percent.
And let's not forget that both houses of Congress are controlled by Democrats where approval hovers at an all time low.
What do I think is actually going on?
First, I think it is a mistake to associate disillusionment with today's GOP with disillusionment with the principles of limited government and traditional values. It has been so long since American voters have seen the GOP led by anyone who truly carries the banner of these great American principles that they can't remember what it is like.
Under Republican leaders in the last 25 years, we've seen government grow, entitlements expand, and -- except for welfare reform in 1996, passed by a Republican congress and signed by a Democratic president -- we've seen little in the way of market-based reforms and government rollback.
Despite accusations that John McCain is simply running for George W. Bush's third term, the ease with which Sen. Barack Obama has embraced one of President Bush's signature programs -- faith-based initiatives, in which government doles out funds to religious institutions -- tells us something. And it is not that Obama is becoming more conservative.
What's going on is not an ideological crack-up but a branding crack-up. Rejection of the Republican Party today is not a rejection of limited government and traditional values. It is a rejection of what the Republican Party morphed into.