The political newspaper Politico cosponsored a poll in April 2009 to gauge the public’s level of trust in American political figures. The findings, according to Politico’s Andy Barr: “Three months into his presidency, Barack Obama stands out as perhaps the most trusted figure in American politics.”
That was then. The nosedive has been dizzying.
Last month, a CNN-cosponsored poll found 53 percent of respondents saying they consider Obama neither honest nor trustworthy. Reported Reuters’ Susan Heavey: “A growing number of Americans doubt President Barack Obama’s ability to manage the nation ... .”
More recently, a Dec. 18 Gallup poll reported that 72 percent of Americans say big government “is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question.”
Pundits will swap opinions about which 2013 story was the “biggest,” but a common thread has run through many of the year’s major newsmaking events: More Americans than ever – rightfully so – have little or no trust in our government.
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked to the world not only the NSA’s mass surveillance of foreign nationals but the intrusive snooping into the phone and Internet records of ordinary U.S. citizens. Obama talked tough as a U.S. senator when he slammed domestic spying under the George W. Bush administration. But as recently as Dec. 20, he couldn’t answer a reporter’s question on whether the NSA’s call records program ever prevented a single terrorist attack.
In 2013, the Internal Revenue Service had been specifically targeting – more accurately, bureaucratically browbeating – groups seeking tax-exempt status, apparently based almost exclusively on how the groups’ names might reveal possible conservative agendas.
Also this year, a federal attorney sent the Associated Press’ general counsel a note saying, oh by the way, the Department of Justice has been secretly obtaining the work, home and cell phone records of AP reporters and editors. So much for a news agency’s constitutional right to gather and report the news.
Congress can’t be trusted to do its job. Amid the partisan sniping that has further divided the country, this year Congress has passed a pathetic 58 bills – the lowest total in at least 66 years.
And all the year’s mistrust culminated with the signature project of the Obama administration – the so-called Affordable Care Act. It was supposed to be a crowning achievement of Obama’s presidency, and it required the entire nation to trust that it would work. Instead, the health-care reform plan’s rollout churned into disaster. Americans have been pushed into plans they either don’t want or can’t afford, or both – that is, if they were even able to log on successfully to the clunky ACA website.
Obamacare required an overwhelming majority of citizens to believe the president’s now-infamous quote “If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan.” That quote has been named the “Lie of the Year” by the fact-checking watchdog PolitiFact.
Do any of these incidents sound like the actions of a government you can trust?
The government doesn’t even trust itself. In June, reporters with the McClatchy newspaper chain uncovered the administration’s “Insider Threat Program,” which grants unusual latitude in pursuing and punishing suspected information leakers within the government. Documents show “how
millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for ‘high-risk persons or behaviors’ among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage,” McClatchy reported.
No wonder an October report released by the independent Committee to Protect Journalists found that the Obama administration’s chokehold on the flow of information is the worst “since the Nixon administration.”
The feeling of mistrust is not strictly partisan, either. This isn’t merely a case of Republicans grumping over a Democrat in the White House. Liberals are having big problems with the president, too. Even The New York Times argued that Obama lost credibility on the NSA spying issue.
People on the left also are upset over the Obama administration’s use of drone aircraft in combat – specifically the number of civilian casualties. The White House has promised transparency on that issue, too – but we’ve seen how its past promises of transparency have turned out. Liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson recently wrote that history will consider the drone war “a great moral failure.”
Even America’s Founding Fathers didn’t completely trust the very federal government they created. That mistrust gave birth to the Bill of Rights, which includes the important 10th Amendment reserving powers to the states that are not granted specifically to the national government. The Founders wanted a government as a framework within which freedom could thrive, not a smothering bureaucracy that too often fosters dependence among its citizens.
In October, after the 17-day government shutdown over disputed appropriations funding, Obama talked about rebuilding Americans’ trust. But he wants citizens to trust his version of government, and a growing chorus of Americans are saying they simply can’t do that.
As the federal Salesman in Chief, Obama’s posturing to convince us of government’s role as a cradle-to-grave protector looks more and more like a stereotypical used-car salesman coaxing us to buy a jalopy that’s currently on fire.
What do Americans want in 2014 and beyond? A government we can trust to act fiscally responsible without bankrupting our children and grandchildren. A government we can trust to respect our privacy while preserving our security. A government we can trust to protect our freedoms instead of threatening them.
If the people running our federal government could dedicate themselves to accomplishing that, it truly would create a happier new year.