Politics in the Public Psyche

“what has the government done for me lately”?

There was an era when the public rallied behind government intervention. After the great depression, a major world war victory capped by a scientific achievement in atomic energy/weaponry – Who could argue that big government was a good thing? With huge public works projects like the interstate highway system, and a mission to the moon. We had great reasons to stand behind the stars and stripes.

Looking back on the last 50 years though it is not clear that we have the same level of public government “wins”. After several lingering, unsuccessful, or cold wars there are not the same great v-day moments.

There have been no shortage of potential government victories that seem to have been missed or underplayed.

  • Climate change and alternative energy sources are a potential rallying point, but have not been had great government successes.
  • A healthcare overhaul received more negative spin.
  • A financial bailout could have been viewed as an essential rescue of the private sector, but was panned as wasteful or unnecessary.
  • The shutdown of the shuttle program has ended the dream of the US space ambassador.
  • Our national lab system continues, but has not had large visible commercialization wins.
  • High speed rail could be a new unifying transportation system, but can’t make it past zoning and budget holdups.
  • Major opportunities for “government to the rescue” were botched in the example of Katrina and FEMA.
  • Two wars over a decade have ramped up crippling debt and left us mired in difficult to exit, unstable nation building projects
  • The biggest success of killing the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks lasted

These are all missed opportunities for voters to self identify as proud americans. A body of voters that aggregates in institutional tribes rather than national tribes will seek to undercut the power of the higher order groups. What we are seeing now is not just about shrinking budget, it is about the shrinking scope of identity. We no longer see ourselves as a proud and powerful nation, but as a victimized set of smaller squabbling groups chasing more immediate interests.


About livingthememe

engineer and armchair philosopher
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