There has been a lot said and written in the last couple of days about a new poll showing that only 20% or so of Americans “trust the government.” The news is being gravely received and treated as further and redundant proof that the country is in a bad way.
To me, though, it sounds like pretty good news. We need more distrust of government for the very good reason that government is pretty much an untrustworthy enterprise. If more Americans had been inclined to distrust the government five, ten, twenty, or more years ago, we might not be in the fix we are in today and our distrust might not be so bilious.
Wouldn’t it, for instance, have been a good thing if we had distrusted the entire Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac contraption which was the foundation of the housing bubble that, when it burst, led to the economic distress that has so many of us feeling distrustful and worse? If we had been a little skeptical of the government’s claim that Fanny and Freddy were not backed by the full faith and etc. of the government and would not be bailed out if they got into trouble, then they might not have grown so fat on preposterous mortgages that they had to be bailed out using the full faith and etc. And we might all have jobs and more money today. But the people who ran those Government Sponsored Enterprises — and got hog-rich doing it — assured us that all was well. And we trusted them.
We can’t claim innocence. This wasn’t a “fool me once, shame on you,” thing. By the time of the housing crash, we all had plenty of reason to know better. Still, we go on trusting, so shame on us.
We would, I think, be a lot better off today if we’d been a lot less trusting back in what we are all supposed to think of as a better, less dishonest times. Wouldn’t the nation be better off its citizens hadn’t accepted with docility the assertion, made in 1967, that Medicare would cost a mere $12 billion in 1990? Turns out that the actual number was a little closer to $110 billion. But how could any good citizen actually distrust a government that gets it wrong by a mere factor of almost 10? And how absolutely nihilistic of him to doubt that the Health Care Reform legislation so recently passed will both expand coverage and reduce the deficit.
Where’s the trust?
Back when he was campaigning for the job, President Obama said he would do something about this trust deficit, declaring that, “…when it comes to what’s wrong with this country, the American people are not the problem. The American people are the answer. The American people want to trust in our government again — we just need a government that will trust in us. And making government accountable to the people isn’t just a cause of this campaign — it’s been a cause of my life for two decades.”
Well, on the matter of a different deficit, the one that has people worried about the world they will be leaving to their children and grandchildren, President Obama has resorted to an old Washington scam that we have seen before and should, by now, distrust instinctively. He has appointed a commission to study the matter and get back to us with recommendations.
Commissions like this one are established to do what everyone in Washington wants done (increase taxes, close useless military bases) but lacks the courage to do.
This commission will be chaired by Erskin Bowles who once worked in the government, for Bill Clinton, and Alan Simpson who used to work in the U.S. Senate where what they do, year after year, is vote for things they can’t raise money to pay for. Among the other members of this commission will be Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois where the people in government ran the state into an economic ditch before some of them, but not nearly enough, went off to jail.
That anyone who is now, or ever has been, a member of the United States Senate is serving on the commission charged with reducing the deficit is prima face cause to distrust the whole enterprise. But, of course, we know what the commission is going to recommend before they even start running up bills to decorate their office space.
Get ready for the Erskine & Alan VAT. That would be a Value Added Tax.
When asked about the VAT, Robert Gibbs, this administration’s Secretary of Distrust said, “This is not something the president has proposed, nor is it under consideration.”
Which pretty much seals the deal.
Once we get the VAT, maybe we’ll look back at that 20% figure and wonder how it could ever have been that high.