One of the concepts that we talk about in terms of the origins of gridlock is the political illiteracy of the American public. We can ask ourselves if people who are misinformed about commonly accepted facts should be using their beliefs to elect politicians that make decisions that affect all of us. Additionally, the electorate can be misinformed to the point where it actively supports politicians that want to do away with programs that they depend on.
In a recent New York Times article entitled “Even Critics of Safety Net Depend on ItIncreasingly,” the author argues that the number of citizens dependent on government programs has gone up along with those who believe we should decrease government spending on such programs. In a competitive primary season in which all of the GOP candidates offer some flavor of reducing spending and cutting taxes, this dynamic is crucial. The author goes on to state, “support for Republican candidates, who generally promise to cut government spending, has increased since 1980 in states where the federal government spends more than it collects. The greater the dependence, the greater the support for Republican candidates.” The cognitive dissonance of decrying those who benefit from public programs while actually receiving those same benefits is examined in personal interviews in the article. There is even a marvelously intriguing map offederal funding throughout the states and its change over time. The traditionally red states do receive a lot of federal funding and one can only wonder if their future Republican nominee will reflect the needs of their people.
This does raise a couple of questions in terms of its relation to gridlock. If we’re going to elect officials that make decisions about the roles of government programs, should we be aware of them ourselves? Has the concept of government spending become so polarized in modern politics that it can only be characterized in a false dichotomy between wasteful handouts and an appeal to common decency? How much of this phenomenon outlined in the article is a reflection of individual interests and how much of it is a reaction to the rhetoric of the two parties?