Byrd: Americans secretly love government spending

BY MATTHEW BYRD | JUNE 30, 2014 5:00 AM

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One of the more annoying memes that the American political class holds on to is the idea that Americans are essentially ultra-conservative Randians hell-bent on bringing the modern American welfare state to its knees through massively regressive spending cuts. This is why Republican (and many, many, many center-right Democrats) will tell you that they have a mandate to essentially destroy such things as  Social Security.

This pathology is actually quantifiable, as shown by political scientists David Broockman and Christopher Skovron, who polled 2,000 political candidates from both parties during the 2012 election cycle and found that politicians overrated their constituents’ conservatism by a wide margin, with some politicians rating their constituents support for conservative policies 20 percent higher than it actually is, particularly on economic issues.

Now, when you actually look at what Americans actually say when they’re polled instead of relying on meaningless pundit ideals (“It’s a center-right country,” “Real Americans are tired of government spending.”) what you find is that Americans are actually secretly a bunch of “radical,” “out-of-touch” socialists.

When Americans were asked by the Pew Research Center whether Congress should reduce the deficit (essentially a code-word for government spending), 70 percent agreed, which would seem to support this idea of an America that is populated by Paul Ryan acolytes. However, when asked about specific programs, were average Americans given control of the U.S. budget (which, when considering what Congress has done with it, wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world), surprise, surprise, they can’t find anything they want to cut.

Either a majority or plurality of Americans have no interest in cutting Medicare, natural-disaster relief, food and drug inspections, infrastructure spending, scientific research, military defense, agriculture spending, or unemployment insurance among other programs. In fact, a majority of Americans want to increase spending (gasp) for Social Securtiy, veterans’ benefits, and education.

Really the only thing Americans seem genuinely interested in cutting is foreign aid, which constitutes a whopping 1 percent of the U.S. budget. And even that’s controversial, with only a slight plurality (48 percent) in favor of telling the foreign dictatorships (err, I mean “transitioning democracies”) where they can shove it.

So Americans don’t hate the idea of taking a hatchet to big government. They actually love it and want the parts they really like to get even bigger.

Now, of course, just because most Americans are actually tax-and-spend leftists doesn’t mean that tax-and-spend left-wing politics are inherently virtuous. Majorities of Americans have supported stupid ideas like banning interracial and gay marriage and wanting to go to war in Iraq (though, as a pinko socialist I must admit I think Americans are right on this one), and that didn’t make any of those ideas completely intelligent.

This data do, however, force pundits and politicians who are so keen on atrophying basic social services to stop anchoring their ideas in public support for their proposals (just kidding — pundits and politicians are way too shameless to stop lying about the basic facts of public opinion, or anything really).

On the other hand, Americans really need to learn that they don’t support reducing the size of government if they also want to either increase or keep steady every single government program that actually significantly contributes to the size of government.

If you continue to tell politicians that you are economic conservative but aren’t actually economically conservative, don’t be surprised when they listen.

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