Commentary: Why Americans want a “New Relationship” with their government


“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”  So spoke President Reagan four decades ago, yet the idea rings even truer today. 

Politicians love polls.  I wonder why.  Imagine being constantly rated in your place of employment – with nearly 70 percent of your customers saying you were doing a pretty lousy job.  In the real world, you’d be escorted from the building.  In Washington, you are rewarded with re-election…and an even bigger office.       

Nearly seven in ten Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, according to the RealClearPolitics average.  More than half feel the same way about President Trump.  And still, our leaders stay the course.  Polarization. Petulance. Politics as usual.  In the proverbial words of my beloved Beatles: “You say yes, I say no.  You say stop, and I say go.”  

Americans are furious – even more so than on Election Day.  And it’s hard to blame them.  Everything is promised.  Nothing is delivered.

Yet, for all their contempt for the broken city on a hill, they refuse to take away the keys to the kingdom.  They bemoan the leaders in Washington who create the problems, yet consistently re-elect them, perpetuating the status quo without hope of a viable solution.

It’s a cyclical political paralysis that deepens with every election.  The new president is learning what took the old president years to figure out: the art of winning and the art of governing are inherently at odds.  Americans really do want change they can believe in. And they really want to make America great again.

But it is not enough to change the president.  They have to change the system.  

Maybe that’s why Americans are demanding a new relationship with their government: one that prioritizes local leadership and targeted solutions, instead of trying to force a one-size-fits-all national approach.  The numbers – rooted in a poll my firm conducted on behalf of the National Governors Association – are as clear as they are compelling.

A full 71 percent of voters say that state government is doing a “better job of serving its citizens and delivering results” than the federal government (29 percent).  America’s governors and state governments received a relatively high 45 percent favorability rating, compared to just 27 percent for the federal government as a whole.  And state government enjoys higher trust on many – though not all – issues related to social and economic leadership, from budgeting to education to infrastructure. 

Even in the era of Trump – who coasted into the White House on the wings of an angry electorate that feels forever ignored and left behind – Washington is still doing what Washington does best: gridlock.  Congress has proven incapable of working with itself – let alone the White House.  Indeed, leaders of both parties remain hopelessly deadlocked.  

They prioritize loyalty to obstinate caucuses over common-sense solutions that deliver real and measurable results for the American people.  Think that first health care debacle was embarrassing?  Saddle up.  With tax reform, it’s about to get even worse.

Meanwhile, our infrastructure is crumbling.  Our schools are failing.  Our borders are broken.  Hardworking taxpayers are living paycheck-to-paycheck, desperate for relief. 

America has given up on Washington.  They want the states to stand up, speak out, and take responsibility.  Governors get it.  Democrats like New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper and Republicans like Tennessee’s Bill Haslam, Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker have proven track records because they have broken the cycle of petty partisanship and have fashioned compromises across the aisle.  They don’t do band-aids; they do results.  They offer solutions, not stale rhetoric.  They look forward, not backward.  And as a result, their schools have improved, their healthcare is better, and they are addressing quality of life issues with ideas, plans, and actions.   

This is a unique opportunity for a unique time.  Think about it — Republicans have long led the choir in singing the praises of local leadership.  Now they’re not alone: because Democrats detest Trump, they, too, are looking local.   

And, from coast to coast, the gubernatorial bench is exceptionally strong.  They are passionate.  They are prepared.  They are taking on tough challenges that Washington is either unwilling or unable to undertake itself.

I’m not naïve.  Every 20 or so years, fury with Washington refocuses the eye of the electorate on the states.  But like clockwork, we revert to our old ways.  Consequently, the collective efficiency and effectiveness of Washington deteriorates further.    

We’re a diverse population of 320 million people.  The challenges of Massachusetts are not the same challenges of Mississippi.  That runs straight into conflict with Washington’s penchant for top-down, sweeping remedies, with which we are already underwhelmed and over budget.  In short, our political leaders’ entire approach needs to change – now.  

So I ask Speaker Ryan, someone I have respected and supported for over two decades: how much more proof do you need before you seek a fundamental change in governing that restores teeth to the 10th Amendment, the New Relationship America is begging for?

These are times of great consequence.  How many kids must languish in failing schools before Congress steps up to the plate?  How many bridges must collapse?  How many people must lie awake at night wondering whether they will have the skills and training for the job they’re going to need tomorrow?  

Mr. Speaker, amidst this cycle of broken promises and enduring disappointment, I’ll take governors – who have something to prove they’re for – over your D.C. politicians who are perpetually flaunting what they’re against.  

Pick any issue.  Pick any member of Congress.  If they can’t find the decency and determination to “get to yes” on matters significant to the greater good, maybe it’s time to say no.  No more.  Stop looking to Washington.  Start looking to the states.  

All politics is local.  These days, so is all progress.

Dr. Frank Luntz is a CBS News analyst.

Source: CBS News – Politics



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