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Losing faith in government

| Monday, July 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Now for some good news, and it has nothing to do with the birth of the royal baby.

According to a USA Today/Bipartisan Policy Center poll, “Americans by more than 2-1 say the best way to make positive changes in society is through volunteer organizations and charities, not by being active in government.” Even better news: People under 30 are especially put off by politics and are “significantly less likely than their parents to say participating in politics is an important value in their lives.”

Why is this good news? There are at least two reasons. One is that the less faith people have in government, the more they are likely to have in themselves. The second is that a public loss of faith in politics and politicians increases the possibility of government becoming smaller. That could mean less spending, a smaller deficit and ultimately, one hopes, lower taxes.

Obama's endless speeches aren't cutting it. The public wants the action it was promised. It's not getting any and so is increasingly disillusioned with politics and politicians. Republicans don't escape blame. The McClatchy-Marist poll found only 22 percent of those surveyed approve of congressional Republicans.

Again, this is — or can be — good news for the country and even for Republicans if they get the message. USA Today quotes Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill.: “There's a skepticism of government. Young people say, if I want to feed the hungry or make a difference for cancer patients, it's easier to do that through a nonprofit and see the tangible results up close than, say, trying to push for federal funding to do the same.” At 32, Schock is the second-youngest member of Congress and may reflect the attitude of many of his generation.

What's the message? It is that the states, especially those with Republican governors, are mostly doing a far better job in addressing people's needs and wants than Washington. As Peter Roff notes in U.S. News, “(W)hile the ‘blue states' are running up debt and flirting with bankruptcy, the ‘red states' continue to take the lead in cutting taxes, streamlining government and job creation, according to a report issued ... by the State Government Leadership Foundation.”

Charitable organizations are addressing problems the federal government only talks about. World Magazine, a biweekly Christian publication, has given its annual Hope Award for Effective Compassion (note the word “Effective”) to My Safe Harbor, an organization in Anaheim, Calif., that “helps single mothers break the dysfunctional cycle of broken homes.” The program promotes faith, personal responsibility and accountability for one's actions. Its goal is not to addict people to a government check, but to free them from dependency so they can have the dignity that goes with earning their own check. It is an anti-poverty program that works.

If Republicans want to regain trust, they should be focusing less on the failures of Democrats and more on the successes of Republican governors, Republican legislatures, charitable organizations like My Safe Harbor and volunteers. They are achieving goals Washington can't. Instead, Washington continues to misspend too much money with little to show for it, except ever-increasing debt.

The USA Today poll found that young people put “elected official or working for one” at the very bottom of their career choices. Given the performance of Washington's political class, who can blame them?

Cal Thomas is a columnist for USA Today.

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