Generally speaking, would you favor smaller government with fewer services or larger government with more services?
Fifty-eight percent of those polled by The Washington Post recently claimed they preferred smaller government with fewer services, with only 38 percent favoring a larger government with more services (and, yes, it is a terrific struggle not to place ironic quotations marks around the word "services").
This is the highest number for the "smaller government" category since 2002. And a full year into President Barack Obama's term, most polls and state elections tell us that the electorate is walking -- maybe sprinting? -- back from the progressive economic policies that now dominate Washington.
Some Democrats believed grousing about (the fully imagined) wild and unregulated days of the Bush years would be sufficient to pass sweeping top-down economic controls. Yet for all the presidential election-time happy talk, Americans have this sturdy historical aversion to "fundamental" reorganizations of their society.
Still other Democrats convinced themselves that surging opposition to their big plans was fabricated, paid for by insurance companies or oil companies or some other reprehensible profit-motivated boogeyman they'd conjured up. They overestimated their mandate and underestimated the electorate.
Many more Democrats continue to convince themselves that the party's problem is flawed candidates or poorly communicated messages, as White House spokesman Robert Gibbs conceded this week -- because, presumably, the idea of socializing medicine is too nuanced and intellectually rigorous for the average voter to digest.
Hardly. The predicament Democrats face is the opposite. Too many voters appreciate exactly what health care legislation entails.
This is why Congress conducts clandestine negotiations on legislation and trashes promises of transparency. This is why leading Democrats have embraced procedural tricks and senatorial bribery -- and now the possibility of "reconciliation" -- so they can adjust health care reform and pass it with a 51-vote majority. You're gonna get it whether you want it or not.
That's what happens when these Democrats lose a debate. According to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 33 percent of the public believes the health reform effort is a "good" idea, whereas 46 percent considers it a "bad" idea -- with 55 percent disapproving of Obama on health care.
What's most striking about this poll is that opposition to Obama's plan has increased 20 percentage points since April -- coinciding, not surprisingly, with the president's big push to convince us that it's needed. The more people learn, apparently, the less they like.
Now, I am under no grand illusions about democracy. The electorate can be mercurial and irrational -- as nearly every election proves. Nor do I believe any ethical politician should abandon his core values simply because polls tell him it would be expedient.
I say, keep fighting, Mr. President. Those of us who believe in capitalism need you.
But the fact is we have one party controlling both houses of Congress -- with historically impressive margins. We have an opposition political party Americans have lost confidence in. We have endured a frightening downturn that allowed the far left to advance a menu of stunning regulatory intrusions that normally would be non-starters.
Finally, we have a charismatic and articulate president who, armed with a nearly national landslide, was given the stage to make his pitch on health care reform.
If, with all that, the progressives cannot convince voters that the central cause of their movement is necessary, then it is not a messaging problem or a leadership problem, and it is not a Republican problem; it is an idea problem -- a terrible idea problem.