Priorities: Responding to Overwhelming Public Demand (3%) Obama Makes a ‘Plea’ for Immigration ReformPosted: January 28, 2014
POLL: ONLY 3% OF AMERICANS RANK IMMIGRATION REFORM AS TOP PRIORITY
Nothing like going into battle facing the wrong way.
New polling data from Gallup shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans do not think handling immigration reform is even close to a top priority for 2014.
Immigration places well behind other issues like healthcare, jobs, the economy, dissatisfaction with Washington politicians, the debt and deficit, lack of money, ethics and moral issues, poverty, the gap between the rich and the poor, education, foreign aid and others. In fact, only three percent of Americans think the issue is a priority that must be dealt with this year.
“Americans start the new year with a variety of national concerns on their minds,” Gallup’s Lydia Saad wrote on Wednesday. “Although none is dominant, the government, at 21%, leads the list of what Americans consider the most important problem facing the country. The economy closely follows at 18%, and then unemployment/jobs and healthcare, each at 16%. No other issue is mentioned by as much as 10% of the public; however, the federal budget deficit or debt comes close, at 8%.”
[In] this democracy, we the people recognize that this government belongs to us, and it’s up to each of us and every one of us to make it work better. We can’t just stand on the sidelines. We can’t take comfort in just being cynical. We all have a stake in government success—because the government is us.
That last sentence might sound familiar to seasoned observers of the president. Back in 2010, at the University of Michigan’s commencement (and as Tea Party opposition to the president and his health care bill reached its peak), Obama said, “When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that in our democracy, government is us.”
In early May, at Ohio State’s commencement, he did not use the phrase “government is us,” but he made essentially the same point:
Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.
With trust in government near an all-time low, the president’s agenda stalled in the House because of skeptical Republicans, and a host of scandals that raise questions about governmental integrity and competence, we should expect to hear a lot more of this from President Obama over the next few weeks and months. Cynicism about government is bad because, in the end, it is just “us.” Why worry?
This is pernicious nonsense. It is, of course, typical for presidents of both parties to trot out poll-tested phrases that lack internal logic or external validity. Even so, for somebody who fancies himself a scholar-president in the mold of Woodrow Wilson, it is not asking too much for him to evince a little more understanding of the constitutional foundations of the republic.
For starters, this is not a “democracy” in the sense that Obama suggests. Government is not “us” inasmuch as we elect representatives whose job it is to represent our interests as they formulate policy. This should immediately induce some measure of skepticism about the government, for it points directly at the principal-agent problem. That is, how can principals (i.e., the voters) make sure that their agents (i.e., their elected representatives) are actually working on behalf of the public, rather than for their own personal gain? As questions of public policy become more complex, and the agents become more entrenched, it becomes harder and harder for citizens to ensure that the people they elect are doing the job they were sent to do.
Moreover, there is an inherent difficulty in aggregating the interests of individual citizens into something that rightly can be called “the public good.” Many times, for instance, the policy demands of one faction will result in harm to another. What to do then? At the very least, one cannot merely assume that a “democracy” will ensure that the public good is promoted after all the votes are counted, as Obama seems to suggest. If an aggressive faction holds a numerical majority, should the minority then expect to be plundered? How does that serve the public good?