Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Major Crisis of Confidence in America

Reading partisan blogs can often be a painful and depressing experience. Each side engages in "gotcha" blogging, attempting to catch some figure or other from the other side in a contradiction. Each side nitpicks the traditional media for some little piece of news that is supposedly of great importance, but then dies into oblivion a week later.

Most recently, the progressive blogosphere and the wingnutosphere have been engaged in one-upsmanship to see who can laugh hardest at the other guy's sinking approval/confidence ratings. We progressives cheer with derision at George Bush's atrocious all-time low 26% approval rating; meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, the wingnuts applaud with contempt at the 14% all-time low confidence rating of congress.

But what should frighten members of both parties is the shocking loss of confidence that Americans have in any American institution right now, devoid of partisan significance or repercussion.

While the wingnuts merrily tout the low confidence ratings for Congress in the new Gallup Poll, Americans of any political stripe should be shocked at the overall trendlines showing that confidence in Congress has fallen right on pace with confidence in every other major public or private institution polled. And while it is true that Congressional confidence ratings are at the bottom of all institutions polled, that is nothing new: Congress has had consistently low confidence ratings for years, largely due to GOP demonization of government. Also, while the wingnuts proudly tout the high comparative confidence ratings for the military compared with other institutions, what they fail to point out is that the military, too, has lost clout with the American people at almost the same rate that Congress has. In fact, Congress' confidence ratings seem to be falling slower than those of many other institutions.

The confidence rating numbers are below (it's simpler to read in graph format at Gallup's site, but I'll present the numbers in a table):

InstitutionJune '06June '07
The Military73%69%
The Police58%54%
Church/Organized Religion52%46%
The U.S. Supreme Court40%34%
Public Schools37%33%
The Medical System38%31%
The Presidency33%25%
Television News31%23%
Criminal Justice System25%19%
Organized Labor24%19%
Big Business18%18%

Indeed, if any partisan conclusions can be drawn at all from this poll, it is that most insititutions considered more in line with Republican support have been falling faster than those more in line with Democrats: organized religion has fallen by 6%; banks by 8%; the medical system by 7%; the Presidency by 8%. Meanwhile, the television and newspaper media have lost major credibility as well to the tune of 8% each.

But what these numbers say more than anything is that neither party has large reason to rejoice: the truth is that Americans are sick and tired of the status quo, and they don't believe that anyone is working in their best interests right now--not the schools, the courts, the churches, the government, business, the media, the police, not anybody. That is fundamentally a very scary thing because our entire society runs on trust in major public and private institutions: without that trust, democracy, representative governments and entire economies fall into ruins. While we Democrats laugh at Bush's low approval ratings and the Republicans laugh at Congress' confidence ratings, America is falling into grave danger of a crisis of confidence in itself and its ability to maintain a functional society.

But there is still hope--at least for Democrats willing to govern and run as progressives--especially on the issues of Iraq and the middle-class economy. According to another Gallup poll just released, Iraq remains the most important problem for the Gallup by a wide margin--more than double that of the next most important problem, immigration (though it is important to note that the numbers for immigration are artificially high due to its recent coverage in the news). A whopping 70% of the country also says that the economy is getting worse--largely due to healthcare costs and wages that have not kept pace with productivity or inflation.

The message is clear: the American people are upset about the situation in Iraq. They're upset about job insecurity and low wages. They're upset about illegal immigration--largely because they feel it impacts their wages and jobs. They're upset about healthcare costs. And they don't think anyone out there is helping them or doing anything about it.

Thankfully, because these issues are fundamentally Democratic issues to make progress on and Republican issues to obstruct, the opportunity for political gain is enormous and one-sided in our favor. Unfortunately, our Democrats in Congress are wasting that opportunity by being timid and risk-averse, passing mostly pointless legislation and refusing to take a chance on standing up for causes that might make Americans actually believe in their government again.

Democrats in congress have nothing to lose by growing a spine: their own confidence rating can't get much lower, the American people are quickly losing trust in any of the public institutions that make this country great, the public policy wildfires are burning out of control, and the opposition party is stuck in a deep political ditch.

The American people, meanwhile, are stuck in a burning building with no way out. The
Republicans are not only incapable of putting it out--they're the arsonists who started the blaze. The Dems have the power to put out the fires and rescue the people, but are too afraid to do it lest they get singed. So both parties are standing there, laughing at how close the licking flames are coming to torching their opponents' hides. That is a sad state of affairs that can end only in tragedy.

The time for action is now. Because when confidence in all of our institutions is weakened beyond repair, there won't be anything left to save.

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