It is in the nature of American political system that election time is when all the concerns and the fears of the public come to focus. And no wonder. Politicians are trying to get elected, and they are trying to understand the issues that bother the American public so that they can talk to these issues and promise – most of the time only promise, with no intentions to follow up on it – what the voters want. Some politicians promised and really meant it, like Ronald Reagan who knew that Americans were concerned about big government and socialism at home. He promised more liberty and meant it. (Whether he did all that had to be done is another matter.) Bill Clinton knew that Americans were concerned about the economy and won the elections with the simple phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid”; of course, he didn‘t mean it but we don’t expect Democrat to mean what they say anyway. George W. Bush knew that in 1999 Americans were concerned about the many wars Clinton – like every other liberal President we have had so far – had started, and promised to bring the troops home and stop the practice of nation-building and policing the world. Whether he meant it or not is a different matter, we can judge from what happened. Either way, these politicians listened to what the voters wanted, and promised it. And won elections.
It’s election time again, and politicians and their pet political pundits are at it again, working to address the issues that they believe the voters are concerned about. This time, apparently, the issue that the politicians picked to to be most vital concern for the voters, is “national security.” National security, of course, means several things: terrorist threats, Iran and its nuclear program, Islam. These topics get the most time in the talks of political pundits, they get the most time in political debates, the most space in newspapers, etc.
But what do the voters think?
The last Gallup’s poll shows that Americans’ fears of big government are reaching record levels, comparable to the levels in 1998-2000, the last years of Clinton’s presidency. A full 64% of Americans declare big government to be the greatest threat for the country, compared to big labor or big business. With the enormous publicity of the Occupy Movement which was officially directed against big business, it turns out that it is big government that Americans fear the most.
It is true, the poll doesn’t compare big government to national security. But the latest developments in Congress and the Senate have awakened many Americans to the fact that national security is only used as an excuse for bigger and more oppressive government. A Forbes report made the obvious link between the two. Glenn Beck, whose position on foreign threats and national security is what can be called “hawkish,” nevertheless changed his stance and declared that foreign threat is used as an excuse to bury the much more important issue – liberty at home. Obama’s office phone lines were jammed with calls asking for veto on the NDAA act (hopeless effort, I would say, for the NDAA played right into his hands, a Christmas gift to a Democrat President by Republican lawmakers).
And yet, political pundits and candidates keep talking about foreign policy, hoping that, just like in the good old times, foreign policy is the opium of the voters. Not anymore.
The gap between what the voters want to hear and what the politicians want to talk about is widening. The politicians want war. The voters want a return to the Constitution and limited government. The politicians insist that the voters are afraid of Iran. In reality, the voters are more and more afraid of the politicians. Such widening gap is dangerous but it can be promising as well. Such gap lead to the Communist revolution in Russia in 1917. And such gap lead to the American Revolutionary War, and to the Velvet Revolutions in Eastern Europe. In all these cases, those that bet on the continuation of politics as usual, lost the bets. A good lesson for our politicians and pundits.