Our Cynical Age

by Sean Hackbarth

We live in a cynical age. That’s not just me after reading too many stories about Democrats failing to live up to the standards they hold Republicans. Congress’ approval rating is down there with HMOs:

This 14% Congressional confidence rating is the all-time low for this measure, which Gallup initiated in 1973. The previous low point for Congress was 18% at several points in the period of time 1991 to 1994.

Congress is now nestled at the bottom of the list of Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions rankings, along with HMOs. Just 15% of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in HMOs.

Democrats have ticked off the Left for not ending the Iraq War, while the Right is displeased with President Bush and certain Republicans over immigration. The current political situation pleases few partisans.

Congress as an institution has never been particularly popular. The re-election rate of incumbants is high so voters at least tolerate their own representatives. Yet I’m surprised at the level of disapproval. 86% of the public doesn’t have confidence in Congress. It’s almost impossible to get 86% of anybody to agree on anything. This data has gotten Tammy Bruce calling for a constitutional change to hold new elections when there’s so much displeasure. Don Surber jokes (I think) that we should deport Congress.

The public’s negative attitude goes beyond strickly politics. The NY Times nonfiction bestsellers list contains such “pick-me-ups” like AlGore’s The Assault on Reason, Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great, and Lee Iacocca’s screed Where Have All the Leaders Gone?. Readers also hunger for positive stories about great people. Hence we see Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein and Michael Beschloss’ Presidential Courage also on the list.

With so much dissatisfaction there should be an opening for an outsider Presidntial candidate to sweep in promoting real change and opposing Washington’s failures. But with campaign finance laws as they are and the difficulties of third parties such a voice can only come from a super-rich person able to personally finance their campaign. Thus the talk about Michael Bloomberg running.

The ideal candidate appears to be a military man. Seeing how Wesley Clark did in 2004 that person would have to run as an independent reaping the praise of the military while avoiding the scorn for politicians and political parties. This person could even support the unpopular Iraq War as long as he projected seriousness, earnestness, and acknowledge how and why things went wrong.

You’d think Sen. John McCain would fit well into this picture. His bluntness is his strength. But McCain has been too soiled by Washington. Too many compromises and political machinations have alienated him from many especially Republicans.

Our culture of cyncism gave Sen. Barack Obama an opening. No one quite knows what the Audacity of Hope is but people were willing to listen. Unfortunately for him the political meat grinder has bloodied him.

What about Fred Thompson? Even though he’s been knee-deep in Washington he’s known as an actor playing a district attorney. Since he hasn’t fleshed out a lot of what a Thompson administration would be like people can project whatever they like upon him. When he fully enters the Presidential race I expect him to get bloodied like Obama. That’s the game of the MSM as well as Thompson’s opponents.

(It can’t be a small businessman, who are fairly respected, because if they had enough money to self-fund a campaign it would be because their business wasn’t small. Big business confidence is at the same level as that of Congress.)

I think having a distrust in Congress and government is healthy for a free society such a public lack of confidence could have negative repercussions. Mark Tapscott writes,

Nothing is so critical to the continuing health of a republic than the confidence of people that their elected representatives have their best interests at heart in their decision-making. Once that confidence is lost, a revolution of one sort or another becomes likely. In America, such a crisis could be right around the corner.

When there’s revolution all bets are off. There’s no guarantee things would be better than before. Look at 20th Century Russian history for a brutal example.

“New Gallup Data Show Confidence in Congress at All Time Low” [via memeorandum]

UPDATE: Instapundit readers, subscribe to the TAM RSS feed (also by e-mail) so you don’t miss out on my latest and greatest analysis and commentary.

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12 Responses to “Our Cynical Age”


[...] Linked by American Mind, Sister Toldjah and Urban Grounds, who said: “Support Congress, send them home.” [...]


When he fully enters the Presidential race I expect him to get bloodied like Obama.

Which is, of course, a large part of the problem. Could you and/or your family’s past stand up to the level of inspection guaranteed to be focused on any serious candidate?


Dave, if I ran for President the most embarrassing news about me or my family is how boring we are.


“We can not deport 12 million illegal aliens.” Fred Thompson


Daveg, i totally agree. The amount of scrutiny today’s media puts on every little detail of someone’s life–stuff that’s inconsequential to the job they’d do as commander-in-chief–is mind-boggling.

If i ran for president, it’d just take one photo i have on my flickr account of me last New Year’s Eve passed out with my head in a box after drinking too much boxed wine, and i’d be all done. Not to mention being in a band and hanging out with known pot smokers, a sister in a three-way relationship, a brother who wants to be a pro wrestler, etc…


I now realize one mark against me: I grew up with DJ. ;-)


Part of the problem with the scrutiny into these stupid things is that the politicians start spinning like mad when things come out. Instead of just bluntly stating, yeah I smoked pot once, I was a stupid kid. People are people, everyone makes mistakes, that’s how we learn. But instead we get spin: I didn’t mean what I said or I didn’t inhale or whatever…

In politics why the hell is it so bad to admit you were wrong?


Matt, I’d venture a guess that voters (at least in primaries) demand ideological purity. Admitting you’re wrong isn’t good enough. What these voting blocs demand is a life of political and/or cultural purity.


How do you get an Instalanche and I don’t? All I got was a mini-lanche from the Captiol via WisOpinion, which picked up a rant on the state Universal Service Fee </rant> (of course, I don’t promote myself too effectively, so that could be it).

All I can say is I’m trying to stay ahead of that revolutionary curve.


I now realize one mark against me: I grew up with DJ.



A big part of the reason we are all so angry is all this talk about how “we can’t deport twelve million people”. I know of no one who plans on a big mass deportation. We want to patch the hole in the boat before we go around rearranging the deck chairs.
Put up that fence. No excuses, just do it. Enforce the law instead of locking up Border Patrol Officers and Deputy Sheriffs. A meaninful way to check to see if a prospective employee is allowed to work and real sanctions against the employers.
Then we can start talking about the “Undocumented Americans”.


[...] Washington D.C. is completely disconnected from the people it’s supposed to represent, and they know it too. (See faking support letters, for instance). The American people are cynical and sick and tired of the condescension from our political “betters”, so much so that there are suggestions going so far as to call for Congress’ deportation, encirclement of D.C. with a wall to protect us from them and even calls for automatic recalls of Congresscritters when things get this bad. Heck, Zogby may have to start accounting for negative poll numbers (+/-, of course), given the way things are headed. [...]

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