Federal government not as important as politicians believe
Entering the world of official Washington is a bit like the mythical trip Alice took through the looking glass. Everything is upside-down and nonsensical.
This was highlighted most recently in a Wall Street Journal article about how the American people have “a deepening distaste for all Washington institutions” and “angst over Washington dysfunction.”
At the same time, the reporter noted that Americans were “surprisingly upbeat about their own lives.” Solid majorities were happy with their personal finances and “more optimistic about the economy.”
This disconnect is surprising only to those who have gone through the D.C. looking glass and believe the federal government is responsible for running the country. Fortunately, large parts of America work just fine regardless of how badly our political elites perform.
But it's important to recognize the depth and durability of the disconnect.
Earlier this year, official Washington was convinced that citizens would rise up in revolt against the so-called sequester. That budget gimmick modestly slowed the growth of federal spending but was reported by The Washington Post and others as “massive spending cuts.”
Rather than rise up in revolt, hardly anybody outside Washington noticed.
Smug in the worldview that the capital was the driving force behind the economy, many Beltway analysts expected the sequester to tank it. It didn't happen. The economy, while far from strong, continued to get a little bit better.
The fact that the economy could keep getting better while the federal budget was being trimmed shocked many in D.C. But not the rest of us. In America, most correctly anticipated that even a modest bit of budgetary restraint might be good for the economy.
To be clear, Americans weren't happy that Congress was so inept it couldn't cut spending in a more thoughtful manner. Nobody likes the political gamesmanship and petty partisanship that forced Congress to fall back on an across-the-board automatic cut. But expectations are low for elected politicians, and the sequester was better than nothing.
The same phenomenon played out over the so-called shutdown of the federal government. Washington punditry was full of confident assertions it would strangle the fragile recovery. They were wrong again. Following the shutdown, more jobs were created and the unemployment rate got a bit better. Voters disapproved of the incompetence that led to the shutdown, but they also recognized how little it mattered.
This is not to say that the dysfunction of official Washington is good for America. It's just that Washington isn't as important as the political class thinks.
The vast majority of Americans recognize a reality that is unseen in our nation's capital. We know that most jobs are created by small-business owners trying to grow their businesses and make a little more money by serving more customers. We know that most Americans want to work hard and provide for their families. We also know that most Americans aren't looking for special favors. They want to treat others fairly and be treated fairly in return.
Those are the attitudes that help America survive the antics of our political class.
Scott Rasmussen is founder and former president of Rasmussen Reports.