There’s a lot of fodder for thought and debate in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. But I’ll pick three questions in particular to start the evening conversation. The first involves the attitudes of President Obama and the Republican Party regarding business.
The second addresses the federal deficit and how it might be reduced. It’s easy to criticize our political leaders for refusing to tackle the issue seriously, but these poll results suggest that they’re merely reflecting the lack of seriousness among their constituents they represent. Mathematically, the only way to make serious progress on the spending side of the ledger is to start hacking at entitlements and defense, but 70 percent say they’re uncomfortable with that approach.
The other half of the equation is of course revenue. Fifty-nine percent say they’re uncomfortable with trying to close the deficit by increasing taxes. If you’re a politician, the message from the folks back home is that you can’t cut spending and you can’t raise taxes but you better cut the deficit.
Which is why, I suppose, we get treated to political grandstanding on an earmark ban, which will save a total of $16 billion a year. The public demands that something be done, and that nothing be done, which leaves theater the only option.
As U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., points out, ”Our problems are worsening at a rate of $8 billion a day — so earmarks represent basically two days of our problem. It’s almost impossible for people to comprehend. When I talk even to sophisticated audiences and try to clue them in, they react like kids being told a bedtime story. They want to know, ‘Where’s the happy ending?’ ”
In the third question, Americans are asked about their feelings toward various political figures and institutions. The results suggest that the intense animosity directed at the president from the right is largely contained there, bouncing around in the conservative echo chamber. Overall, Obama’s approval rating in the poll matches his disapproval rating, at 47 percent.