Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. -- H.L. Mencken.Slate's Jacob Weisberg laments the schizophrenic, contradictory, opinions of the American public:
In trying to explain why our political paralysis seems to have gotten so much worse over the past year, analysts have rounded up a plausible collection of reasons including: President Obama's tactical missteps, the obstinacy of congressional Republicans, rising partisanship in Washington, the blustering idiocracy of the cable-news stations, and the Senate filibuster, which has devolved into a super-majority threshold for any important legislation. These are all large factors, to be sure, but that list neglects what may be the biggest culprit in our current predicament: the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.I could be elitist and say that these contradictions stem from the public's lack of basic economic knowledge, of cost-benefit analysis, of the seen and the unseen; they want results (health insurance for all!), while ignoring the costs and means involved (higher taxes?!!). But I won't. Read Bryan Caplan's Myth of the Rational Voter. He does it for me. The public gets what it wants, good and hard. Just ask a Californian.
Anybody who says you can't have it both ways clearly hasn't been spending much time reading opinion polls lately. One year ago, 59 percent of the American public liked the stimulus plan, according to Gallup. A few months later, with the economy still deeply mired in recession, a majority of the same size said Obama was spending too much money on it. There's nothing wrong with changing your mind, of course, but opinion polls over the last year reflect something altogether more troubling: a country that simultaneously demands and rejects action on unemployment, deficits, health care, climate change, and a whole host of other major problems. Sixty percent of Americans want stricter regulations of financial institutions. But nearly the same proportion says we're suffering from too much regulation on business. That kind of illogic—or, if you prefer, susceptibility to rhetorical manipulation—is what locks the status quo in place.