The Era of Trust in Government Is Over

William Jacobson
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Posted: Oct 30, 2014 4:59 PM
The Era of Trust in Government Is Over

In 1986, Ronald Reagan joked that the most terrifying words in the English language were “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

In the age of President Barack Obama, Reagan’s maxim is no joke – it’s playing out weekly before our very eyes.

Recent surveys indicate that trust in the government is at lows not seen in decades.

According to an early September 2014 Gallup survey, only 19 percent of those surveyed always or most of the time trusted government in Washington, D.C. “to do what’s right,” compared to 81 percent who only some of the time or never trusted government. That represented a 20 year low for trust in government.

Similar results showing historically low trust in government were revealed in July 2014 CNN/ORC International and October 2013 Pew Research polls.

The era of trust in government is over.

What explains the crash and burn of trust in government?

Wasn’t the Obama presidency supposed to be a “change we can believe in,” a time in which the role of and faith in government was to be exalted?

In substance, the Obama 2008 campaign theme turned Jack Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech line on its head: Ask not what you could do for your country, but what your country could do for you.

Barack Obama was from the government, and he was here to help.

And “help” he did.

The Stimulus Plan was the first “help” the Obama administration and Democrats offered the country. But tens of billions of dollars were wasted on projects that were not – as Obama later admitted – actually shovel ready.

The Stimulus Plan was money in search of a way to spend it, and much of that contrived spending went indirectly to public sector unions by propping up unsustainable state budgets.

We have very little to show for the Stimulus Plan, and even less to show from Obama’s other major domestic initiative, Obamacare.

Obamacare, which still is unpopular and has not gained acceptance in most states which refuse to set up state exchanges, was the Reagan maxim on steroids: “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help whether you like it or not.”

“You can keep your health insurance and doctor if you like them” is what we were told, but just the opposite was true.

Obamacare “helped” by incentivizing employers to drop coverage or to turn full-time employees into part-time employees.

Obamacare also forced millions of people in the individual market to give up health insurance plans they liked, and to purchase plans they didn’t want. Or worse, forced them onto Medicaid, where there will be few doctors willing to see them because the reimbursement rates are so low.

The debacle of the Obamacare federal exchange website was just icing on the cake. And through it all, there still will be tens of millions of people without health insurance.

Oh, and let’s not forget Cash-for-Clunkers, the program to take older and less-pricey vehicles off our roads. Those clunkers, however, served the poorest sectors of the population. Removing those clunkers from the roads distorted the used car market and priced out the poorest among us.

As bad as The Stimulus Plan, Obamacare and Cash-for-Clunkers were, at least government was pretending to help.

In addition, there have been a series of high profile scandals, both home and abroad, in which the Obama administration destroyed trust in government not through negligence, but through malfeasance.

In Benghazi, the administration ignored threats to our consulate, yet when the threats were realized, the Obama administration acted as if it was a surprise resulting from a video protest. The best then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could offer by way of explanation was “what difference does it make.”

The IRS scandal, in which Tea Party and Conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status were targeted by Lois Lerner and others, continues to amaze. From missing emails and disappeared hard drives to Lerner’s pleading the 5th in order to avoid testifying, the IRS scandal confirms our worst fears about the imperial bureaucracy.

The Fast and Furious gun-running scheme, in which the U.S. government sold weapons to Mexican drug cartels without necessary tracking controls, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Mexicans and Border Patrol agent Brian Terry as well.

Let’s not forget also that our foreign policy in tatters. Misguided and naïve expectations as to the threat posed by radical Islam invested the United States in supporting Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt even as it set upon a course of destroying civil and secular freedoms. Our Egypt failure was rescued only by the Egyptian military.

That same recklessness opened the window of opportunity for the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, to such an extent that even Jimmy Carter is criticizing the Obama administration’s inaction and confusion.

The culture of failure is exemplified by the continuing scandals at the Secret Service, once the gold standard of good government. Who would have thought we’d have agents assigned to protect a president visiting prostitutes and allowing an intruder armed with a knife to run through the White House?

If we can’t even trust the Secret Service, who in government can we trust?

Perhaps a few months ago you could respond that we still can trust the Centers for Disease Control. How's that working now, in light of bungled response to the Ebola outbreak? First we were told not to worry, it couldn't happen here. Then it happened here and despite months of notice, the CDC protocols to be used by local hospitals were unclear and unenforced.

Barack Obama has proven Ronald Reagan right.

If government wants to help, start by leaving us alone, and by honoring the limits on the federal government set forth in the Constitution.