Is it me, or are many of the polls, particularly in a nonelection year, totally predictable? When the tea partyers force a partial government shutdown, they get hammered with widespread disapproval. When Barack Obama’s be-all-end-all health-care program craters at startup, the president’s numbers plummet. Important? Yes. Obvious? Also yes, and easy to ignore for anyone but the most fanatic political junkie.
But let’s hear it for The Associated Press, the wire service that commissioned an AP-GfK survey that tells us something really significant: By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, we don’t trust one another. Seventy-eight percent say they’re leery of anyone they just meet. And not surprisingly, 81 percent have little faith in those in and around the government in Washington.
That’s a big deal. A democracy like ours can thrive only with collaboration. When power is in the hands of the people, most of us are expected to do our parts and rely on our fellow citizens. Otherwise, we would end up with a hostile society and a system that doesn’t function very well. Wait, that’s what we have now.
We seem to be mired in suspicion. Worst of all, it’s justified. Wherever we turn, we’re confronted by hustlers, whether in the private world or in the public sector.
It’s really toxic when the dishonesty combines with incompetence, particularly in the government institutions that we pay dearly to serve us.
This brings us, of course, to the Obamacare rollout. No matter whether you believe that the Affordable Care Act ultimately will be a good thing, the unconscionable carelessness that resulted in its calamitous website debut means that it will take a long time before many are willing to wholeheartedly embrace the possibility that it will even work.
Even with the new assurances that the “vast majority” of those trying to sign up will now succeed, the half-vast startup after having three years to plan it leaves us all highly skeptical.
Certainly, from the vantage point on the left, the biggest political tragedy of that humiliation and the other missteps of the administration is that they discredit the progressive movement. Not only is the intimidation potential of Obama’s bully pulpit chopped to pieces, but the causes he represents are dragged down with him. In an era where Americans usually vote against a candidate and his philosophy of government, not for him, the various foul-ups have left the field wide open to mockery from the other side. There is a defiant gesture called “Donkey’s Ears” — the thumbs are positioned on the sides of the head and the ridiculer waves his fingers — and that’s what the Republicans are figuratively aiming at the Democrats.
What’s galling to liberals is that it should be the conservatives on the run. They are the ones who got battered in the last national election by anger from huge groups of voters, disgusted with their harsh positions against Hispanics, gays and women. The fact that those very demographics add up to a large and growing U.S. majority caused even the GOP to recognize that it was in danger of becoming irrelevant. Suddenly, though, they have regained the momentum — or had it handed to them. If they are the only options, voters will select intolerance over ineptitude.
The judgment is spreading that the White House is filled with people who are over their heads, including the boss. Fair or not, that’s deadly, even more toxic than the widespread opinion the other side is a haven for haters and protectors of wealthy selfish interests. What a pathetic choice.
We were taught to believe that if we played by the rules, so would everyone else. Otherwise, why should we share and engage in teamwork?
We should expect more, but as that AP poll shows, we do not. That is, if you trust the poll results.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.