Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Political Legitimacy . . .

Our Declaration of Independence observes:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

"Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." This is boilerplate American history, and something that Americans -- and, in particular, America's political class -- have long taken for granted.

But now things are looking a bit dicey. According to a recent Rasmussen Poll , only 21 percent of American voters believe that the federal government enjoys the consent of the governed. On the other hand, Rasmussen notes, a full 63 percent of the "political class" believe that the government enjoys the consent of the governed.

It's tempting to stress the disconnect here, and that disconnect is certainly huge. Unsurprisingly, the political class -- which talks mostly to itself -- thinks that it is far more popular, and legitimate, in the eyes of the country than is in fact the case. In this, as in so many things, America's political class is out of touch with reality.
So says Glenn Harlan Reynolds in a column in the Washington Examiner. To which he adds:
It gets worse. Not long ago, the federal government enjoyed a stellar reputation for honesty and competence. Now, according to a recent CNN poll, three-quarters of Americans think federal officials aren't honest . (There's no separate survey here on what the "political class" thinks, but I suspect that its numbers would be sunnier, but still appalling, as above). So what do we do with a federal government that many voters think is illegitimate and dishonest?
This is not just a political issue. It represents a dangerous disconnect between the governed and those increasingly out of touch with them. It almost certainly means a rising level of resentment for which democracy's routine political mechanisms are not supplying the requisite ritual resolution.

The whole piece is here.

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