A January survey of 1500 adults by the Pew Center tells us that distrust in the federal government is at an all-time high. 53% of the respondents say the government threatens their personal rights:
I’m not surprised, and you’re not surprised. Right-wing media have been shrieking about the imminent deaths of America and its patriots ever since Barack Obama took office. A consistent coast-to-coast effort like that should have measurable public effects. But how much of the perception can be traced to conservative hysteria? Pretty much all of it:
The growing view that the federal government threatens personal rights and freedoms has been led by conservative Republicans. Currently 76% of conservative Republicans say that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms and 54% describe the government as a “major” threat. Three years ago, 62% of conservative Republicans said the government was a threat to their freedom; 47% said it was a major threat.
By comparison, there has been little change in opinions among Democrats; 38% say the government poses a threat to personal rights and freedoms and just 16% view it as a major threat.
There’s virtually no connection between what the government does and how its perceived. Almost all the movement in polling can be rooted in partisan right-wing politics.
After September 11th, the Bush administration signed the Patriot Act into law. The legislation enabled the federal government to intercept your phone calls, monitor your e-mails, obtain no-knock warrants against you and your living quarters, and pore over your library reading lists. The government later argued it had the right to kidnap and imprison anyone it deemed an enemy outside its borders, even American citizens, and then try them in extra-civilian courts. You would be hard-pressed to find any other era in American history where the government so damaged personal rights.
But look at the concurrent yes/no polling vis-a-vis bad government: 30/67, 32/63 and 45/54. While the Bush administration trampled all over the freedoms of its citizens, conservatives were unconcerned. But now that the anti-torture politically moderate lecturer on constitutional law, Barack Obama, is in charge, they’re howling about the necessity of civil war to defend themselves. They don’t even know how or why the government is dangerous, they only know they hate it and the President as well.