Read between the polls

Thank the good Jewish Jesus! We have collectively moved from the Netanyahu-Iranian-nuclear crisis on to more important things … like March Madness. Oh wait, there is an election in Israel today? Ok, by tipoff Thursday we will have moved on, but we are close.

So Israelis are voting as LEO is getting prepared to go to print, and the American public — or more accurately, the American media — has predictably moved on to more pressing issues: Where are Hilary Clinton’s emails? Which possible presidential candidate is flip-flopping already? And who is leading in the polls for President 2016? 

Polls can be a ridiculous waste of time and money, particularly when precisely zero contenders have announced their candidacy and the Iowa caucuses are in January 2016 — 22 months away. However, Gallup recently released two polls that are both significant and troubling. For the first time since Gallup began tracking American’s views of the two major political parties in 1992, both parties failed to reach 40 percent favorability. Similarly, when asked what is the most important problem facing the nation today, the far-and-away winner (loser) was “Dissatisfaction with government” at 18 percent. 

As someone who believes that government can and must function for society to survive, much less prosper, these are particularly disappointing numbers. It is not that I am satisfied with government these days and disappointed others do not agree, but rather that Americans recognize the significance of the problems with our government functioning and not holding the culprits to account.
It has been well documented that decades ago the Republican Party set out to undermine and discredit major institutions, mostly the government and media. This was not completely nefarious, as much as it was a reflection of a means to reach an ideological end of limited government. What exploded out of this effort was the Reagan Revolution — a star that has shined as the Conservative North Star ever since. 

The first target was the media — discredit the media and destroy American’s faith in the news at all cost. Republican’s assault on the “mainstream media” has been going on for almost as many decades and has shattered the trust Americans have in the media. To be fair, the media has not helped its own cause in too many ways to count. But the fact remains that there is now no universally accepted source for facts, and mainstream, elected Republicans depend on that vacuum, so does Fox News. 

The decades of assaults on the mainstream media crescendoed to the moment Sarah Palin wallowed in its destruction, calling it the “lamestream media.”

Unfortunately, what was once a tide that ended at the foot of Capitol Hill has now flooded the halls of Congress. Mainstream Republicans, particularly since President Obama took office, as well as emergence of the Tea Party hardliners, have taken this strategy a step further. The determination has been made that the best way to limit government is to completely drown it.
The most glaring example was the letter 47 Republicans sent to the Iranian government last week describing, specifically pointing out how unreliable the U.S. government is.

But herein lies the funny thing about polls: People are pressured or prompted to answer a question, then those interested in the response have to translate what the aggregate of people are saying. This is like throwing a dozen tennis balls for a dog and expecting it to pick its absolute favorite; “They all seem pretty important, but here! This one! This one!”

With that in mind, there is a silver lining for those who believe in government and want it to work. The fact that Americans identify dissatisfaction with the government as the top problem we face as a country, and by a significant amount, means that Americans want their government to work, and implicitly think that it can.

Furthermore, while the debate over how much the government can do to help or hurt the economy can be debated until the end of time, most of the other issues identified as the most problematic are government-related issues. For instance immigration and healthcare (7%), terrorism (6%), federal deficit/debt (5%), Iraq/Isis, national security, foreign policy and race relations (4%) are all strictly government-dependent issues.

When Americans identify an issue for which the government is the only institution capable of solving, it stands to reason that those Americans are yearning for a functioning government. I believe there are elected Republicans right now who want to be part of the solution, but with Mitch McConnell as their leader in the Senate, and half of Senate Republicans running for President, I am not sure we will get the solutions we deserve. •