Was Colin Powell Wrong?

Colin Powell said that it appeared to him that Americans not only wanted more government services, but were willing to pay for them. Michale Barone, who is probably one of the better poll interpreters out there, looks at a gaggle of them and isn’t so sure Powell is right (Powell has since become concerned with Obama’s expansion of government and spending):

Last month’s Washington Post/ABC poll reported that Americans favor smaller government with fewer services to larger government with more services by a 54 to 41 percent margin — a slight uptick since 2004. The percentage of Independents favoring small government rose to 61 percent from 52 percent in 2008. The June NBC/Wall Street Journal poll reported that, even amid recession, 58 percent worry more about keeping the budget deficit down versus 35 percent worried more about boosting the economy. A similar question in the June CBS/New York Times poll showed a 52 to 41 percent split.

Other polls show a resistance to specific Democratic proposals. Pollster Whit Ayres reports that 58 percent of voters agree that reforming health care, while important, should be done without raising taxes or increasing the deficit. Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that 56 percent of Americans are unwilling to pay more in taxes or utility rates to generate cleaner energy and fight global warming.

Of course the fun of all this is to try and determine what all of that means. Analysis is then turned into political action – or so it is supposed to go. But the problem is determining what “Americans favor smaller government with fewer services” really means. Like “hope and change” everyone has their own idea of what “smaller government” is, and my guess is it isn’t much smaller than it is now if at all. Instead, poll respondents may be saying they don’t want it to get much bigger.

Probably the most interesting trend in these cited polls is the movement of Independents away from what can only be favoring a big government Democrat. Anyone who actually paid attention to the campaign of Barack Obama and didn’t realize he was a guy who was fully invested in big government and sweeping federal programs shouldn’t have voted.

Reality is here now. All the “hope and change” hoopla has finally boiled down to intrusive and very expensive government programs such as cap-and-trade and health care reform. The election bill is coming due. Yet, if these polls are to be believed, the majority of Americans – while still favoring Obama personally with high approval ratings – are not at all happy with the direction the Democrats are taking the country.

This apparent recoil against big government policies has not gone unnoticed by Americans. Gallup reported earlier this week that 39 percent of Americans say their views on political issues have grown more conservative, while only 18 say they have grown more liberal. Moderates agreed by a 33 to 18 percent margin.

What has driven much of this shift in opinion is the economic downturn and the problem the average American has understanding the huge deficit spending policies of this administration. He certainly understands that the same policies applied to his household would be an unmitigated disaster. So common sense opposes deficit spending, especially at the unheard of levels this administration has committed itself too. Thus far, too, the economy hasn’t responded, and job losses continue unabated. As with all politics, the proof of any policy is in its execution, and the execution of the stimulus has been awful, to be charitable.

That leads to a loss of confidence. But it also leads to a little soul searching on the part of those who’ve agreed, with their vote, to give the Democrats a chance. They’re now beginning to wonder if they made a mistake. The economy is tanking, unemployment is 2.5 points above where they said it would be unless they passed the stimulus, and they’re talking about tacking two monstrous tax and spend programs (cap-and-trade and health care) on top of it all.

No wonder the nation is growing more “conservative”. Of course, again, it is up to the political analysts to try to determine what “more conservative” really means and convert that to votes for their side. I have every confidence that the GOP won’t have a clue how to do either the analysis or the conversion, but these polls seem to indicate that there is a lot for the right to exploit politically. However, distracted by the Palin/Sanford/Ensign nonsense, and without a strong voice to make their case, I’m sure they’ll miss this opportunity completely.

That’s not to say the Democrats won’t self-destruct as they’ve always done in the past, however, Republicans need to rally and stop both cap-and-trade and health care “reform” in their tracks. It seems, if these polls are to be believed, that they have the support of the public. The question is, do they have the ability to form the necessary political coalitions to stop this huge expansion of government in Congress or not? If not, taking it apart later isn’t as easy as one thinks. Very few programs, once passed into law, are ever discontinued at a later date.

However, the unfortunate part is if the GOP does successfully stop this legislation, they’ll be roundly demonized by the left, something the left does very well and the GOP defends against very poorly. Their inclination, then, is compromise. And that means accepting the premise the Dems are floating but trying to make its impact smaller and less intrusive. That, most likely, will be what we’ll end up with – and if so, the GOP will deservedly be tagged as a “bi-partisan” part of the disaster that follows and will have killed their only possible electoral advantage.

If the GOP wants back in this thing, they’ve got to assume Colin Powell was wrong (and the polls seem to suggest that), reject the premises contained in both cap-and-trade and health care reform completely and unify as the “party of smaller and less intrusive government”. That’s how they regain power. To retain it, however, they’ll have to walk the smaller government walk instead of, as they did last time, becoming Democrat-lite. And that’s where they always fail.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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