When former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was heard on FBI wiretaps selling President Obama’s Senate seat, Obama first called for a special election. When it looked like a Republican might win, Obama acquiesced to Blagojevich’s appointment of laughingstock Roland Burris.
The media made Obama pay no price. That was unfortunate, but it also no doubt lulled Obama and his staff into thinking that the public just doesn’t care about corruption. This is a dangerous mindset. There is increasing evidence that the American people do care. According to a Rasmussen:
…the latest national telephone survey shows that 83% now view government ethics and corruption as very important, placing it just ahead of the economy on a list of 10 key electoral issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports. Eighty-two percent (82%) of voters see the economy as very important.
The new findings come at a time when 43% of voters say the president is doing a poor job addressing government ethics and reducing corruption, up five points from early September and the highest level measured since he took office. Forty percent (40%) now give the president good or excellent ratings on his handling of the issue.
Obama was elected President with 53% of the vote. He swept in huge Democratic majorities in Congress. He enjoyed the overwhelming good will of the American people, but Obama misinterpreted his mandate.
He mistook his personal popularity for increased support for bigger government. In fact, it masked a trend in the opposite direction. When Obama was elected, only 17% said they “trust the federal government to do the right thing all or most of the time.” That’s near an all-time low. In 1965, when Medicare was enacted, the figure was 70%!
As pointed out by William Galston, a liberal academic who worked in the Clinton administration:
Even when President Obama’s popularity was at an all-time high, in March and April, trust in government barely moved off the lows of the fall. Obama’s personal popularity did not translate into a belief in the efficacy and integrity of government.
Obama proposed measures that he said would help ordinary people. But it quickly became clear that the real beneficiaries would be elected and appointed officeholders, and the politically well-connected, like AIG and Citigroup executives.
All of his major proposals — from the stimulus plan to the auto bailout to health care — are calculated to create a bigger government, and reward the special interest groups that support him and his allies, such as the United Auto Workers.
If Obama misinterpreted his election, Democratic officeholders really misinterpreted it. So they upped the ante on Obama’s spending and debt binge, delirious with a belief that the public actually supported it.
An even bigger miscalculation is now taking place on the corruption issue. Financial bubbles made possible a period of corporate executive excess, to the disgust of the American people. The public sector is now in a bubble, with federal, state and local government spending expanding at a rate that cannot be sustained. Public officials are exhibiting the same troubling blindness to appearances, not to mention reality.
All this government spending and the “gold rush” mentality in Washington is a recipe for massive corruption.
Scandals in Congress and several well-publicized, localized scandals have confirmed the widely held belief that government can’t be trusted. The first year of Barack Obama’s presidency has been dominated by policy debates that he has mostly lost. I believe that Obama’s next three years will be dominated by scandal.