We want Washington and the states to fix all of our problems now. At the same time, we want government to shrink, spend less, and reduce our taxes. We dislike government in the abstract: According to CNN, 67 percent of people favor balancing the budget even when the country is in a recession or a war, which is madness. But we love government in the particular: Even larger majorities oppose the kind of spending cuts that would reduce projected deficits, let alone eliminate them. Nearly half the public wants to cancel the Obama stimulus, and a strong majority doesn't want another round of it. But 80-plus percent of people and to spend more money on roads and bridges. There's another term for that stuff: more stimulus spending.In late January, I posted (here) on Joe Klein's similar rip on the American electorate. I'm not sure what blaming the voters accomplishes. But it is useful to observe that, at the outset of this Republic, Thomas Jefferson sagely observed, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
The usual way to describe such inconsistent demands from voters is to say that the public is an angry, populist, tea-partying mood. But a lot more people are watching American Idol than are watching Glenn Beck, and our collective illogic is mostly negligent rather than militant. The more compelling explanation is that the American public lives in Candyland, where government can tackle the big problems and get out of the way at the same time.
If the ignorance of the electorate is, indeed, a significant problem, the question becomes what to do about it. Perhaps we need a new initiative to educate as many citizens as possible in the rudiments of economics, statistics, and government, so that they may both understand and participate in more effective and less contradictory ways in resolving large-scale social-cost problems. Even if such an effort could be mounted, there is good reason to doubt how successful it might be. If a voter does not want to be educated about government in general or any particular social issue in particular, he will not be forced to learn. But he may still vote!