The Pew Research Center issued a report today that may help explain why so many people are willing to believe "news" like that reviewed in yesterday's posting.
For the first time, a majority (53%) of the public says that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms. Only 43% disagrees. A full analysis of the report is here.
Nearly three quarters (76%) of conservative Republicans feel that way. But so do more than a third (38%) of Democrats.
Not surprisingly, people who own guns are much more likely to believe the federal government is a threat to their personal freedom -- 62% of gun owners feel that way versus 45% of people without guns. But that figure hasn't changed in three years.
So why the fear that the federal government's ultimate goal is to control people's lives?
My theory is that attitude is the unintended consequence of the Reagan Revolution. It was Ronald Reagan who once said: “Runaway government threatens … the very preservation of freedom itself.”
He was referring primarily to the size of government, as well as to its increasingly frequent intrusion into people's lives. And he hit a responsive chord.
Freedom, after all, is one of the most basic American values.
Many people resent being told they have to wear a helmet when they ride a motorcyle, that they can't fill in wetlands to expand their home, that they can't smoke at work or in restaurants, etc. They consider "nanny state" regulations like those an infringement of their freedom.
In fact, many people now believe government and freedom are mutually exclusive. And the giant deficits the government has run up in recent years have convinced them that government -- the enemy of freedom -- has become too big.
There's more than a little irony in this. Under President Reagan, government spending increased 2.5% annually. By the end of his term, the national debt had more than doubled. Still, people remember what Reagan said -- "Government is not the solution; it's the problem." -- more than what he did.
Joblessness, stagnant wages, rising wealth inequality, and a perception that the government works harder for some than for all have exaggerated the healthy skepticism with which Americans have traditionally viewed government.