Barack Obama

Good News! Record Number of Independents Think Govt is Too Powerful!

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As noted by Reason 24/7, the best goddamned news-aggregation stream on the deliriously great system of tubes known as the Internet, a record-number of Americans—60 percent—think the federal govermnent has too much power. That finding from Gallup tops the previous high of 59 percent recorded back in 2010, when the stimulus, Obamacare, TARP, and the legacy of the Bush years still laid upon the land like a rotting carcass.

So how does the record-high 60 percent majority break down along party lines? Here's what Gallup finds:

The divergence between Republicans and Democrats is easy enough to explain. The party out of power always casts a gimlet eye on the party in power (the temporary overlap circa 2003 between Dems and Reps is explained by 9/11 and the bipartisan run-up to the Iraq War). The widening gulf between Dems and Reps presages the rise of the Tea Party and the belated discovery of GOP members of their party's supposed small-government philosophy. That philosophy of course had gone missing during the big-spending Bush years, when the GOP ran the show at the federal level. I would argue also that while Democrats were relatively more critical of the government during the Bush years, they were also getting a huge heaping serving of what they wanted—a large and growing government that spent more and more and regulated more and more—so the gulf between Dems and Reps was relatively small. Never forget: Bush was a big-government disaster.

The most interesting line in the chart above is the one tracking independents, that growing plurality of voters whose skepticism toward government power starts high and only climbs higher over the past decade (from 45 percent thinking the feds had too much power in 2003 to 65 percent thinking that in 2013).

Seriously, who can blame them? In virtually all the parts of our lives in which politics is involved, the feds have a bigger presence than they did a decade ago. From K-12 education (No Child Left Behind) to prescription drugs (Medicare Part D) to financial markets and accounting practices (Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, TARP) to phone calls and emails (ongoing and still-to-be-revealed dragnet surveillance of our daily lives), the federal footprint is at least a couple of sizes bigger and a lot deeper than it used to.

Which isn't to say that freedom is dead or we're living in an open-air prison or that the president is a secret Kenyan socialist ramping up FEMA concentration camps anymore than it proves that John Boehner is one of those Reptilian shapeshifters that Alice Walker-favorite David Icke is always freaking over. In many ways, the march of freedom—of technological, cultural, and in many cases, political workarounds—proceeds apace. Work arrangments (at least for those who have jobs) are more flexible than ever; gays, black, women, and other minorities are more accepted than ever; pot is fully legal in two states; the Internet and other decentralizing and democratizing technologies and trends keep on keepin' on.

And even in these relatively dark days of a government on the brink of a shutdown borne out of incompetence more than ideological differences, of a government takeover of healthcare, of bipartisan support for bombings abroad and a surveillance state at home, there's that gloriously growing sense among independent voters that the federal government has too much power.

As Matt Welch and I stressed in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, "politics is a lagging indicator" of where America and Americans are headed. And where we're headed is a better world than the one we live in. At least if we can keep the dead-enders of both parties from imposing their command-and-control policies over our economic, cultural, and personal lives. 

Independents are growing in record numbers and influence because the two parties that have dominated U.S. politics since before the Civil War are more debased as brands than GM and Chrysler. And independents increasingly believe that the feds wield too much power in our day-to-day lives. That belief—along with a recognition of how much general improvement there has been in the areas of our lives that are beyond politics—is surely grounds for at least cautious optimism about where the country is headed. Why? Because politics is the last part of American life to change and it's only a matter of time before the political class realizes that it will need to do less with less if it wants to stay in office.