Deep Distrust of the Government is American Norm

Pete Souza

No one tests the historic optimism of the American people quite like your  average politician. Poll after poll finds a deep distrust of government, with more than two-thirds saying they can’t believe what they hear from  Washington.

You don’t have to look far for examples of why they feel this way. Americans  have learned to be wary of taking what politicians say at face value. You could mine almost any political speech for examples, but consider some of the claims  from President Obama’s latest State of the Union address.

He brought up the wage gap between male and female workers, adding that women “make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.” This implies deliberate  discrimination.

The fact is that the average woman tends to make different lifestyle choices  when it comes to decisions about where and how much to work, making direct  comparisons flawed, to say the least.

Worse, as The Washington Post’s fact-checker columnist noted, the president  is using a figure that makes the gap look the widest: annual wages from the  Census Bureau.

Because women tend to work fewer hours, weekly or hourly wages would be more  accurate, and — not surprisingly — they show a much smaller gap.

When it came to foreign policy, Mr. Obama touted the fact that U.S. troops  are out of Iraq.

Here, the problem is one of omission and context. Yes, he may have withdrawn  U.S. troops from Iraq, but that doesn’t mean (as the president hints here) that  the country is safe and the mission is completed. On the contrary, violence is  on the rise. Nearly 9,000 people died in 2013, a five-year high.

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Meanwhile, al Qaeda is resurging in Iraq, erasing many of the gains U.S.  troops had made in securing the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

Small wonder that the Obama administration has been downplaying the “security  consequences of its abrupt pullout from Iraq after it bungled negotiations to  extend the presence of a small U.S. force to advise, train and support Iraq’s  fledging military,” writes Heritage Foundation Middle East expert James  Phillips.

When it comes to fiscal responsibility, Mr. Obama simply stated, “Our  deficits — cut by more than half.” Sounds impressive, but again, it’s not the  whole truth.

He didn’t mention how high the deficit was to start with: During his first  term, the deficit exceeded $1 trillion for four years in a row and reached its  highest level as a percentage of gross domestic product since 1946.

Nor did he dwell on the fact that programs such as Obamacare are set to send  future deficits soaring. As Heritage budget expert Romina Boccia noted after the  speech, thanks to his signature health law, Mr. Obama is “leaving it to a future  president to solve an even bigger fiscal mess.”

The president also took credit for “a rebounding housing market.” He could  have added that he’s called for ending Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two  government-sponsored enterprises that distorted the market and played a big part  in inflating the housing bubble.

The problem is the Senate is considering legislation that would replace  Fannie and Freddie with a new government agency called the Federal Mortgage  Insurance Corporation.

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The FMIC, Heritage’s Norbert Michel has pointed out, would be a federal  regulator and insurer of mortgage-backed securities. In other words, meet the  new boss, same as the old boss.

“As president, I’m committed to making Washington work better, and rebuilding  the trust of the people who sent us here,” Mr. Obama said.

Speeches that cherry-pick facts that flatter and omit the ones that hurt — speeches that present facts out of context — have the opposite effect. They  increase that lack of faith.

Until that changes, Americans would be well-advised to apply President  Reagan’s famous dictum on the Soviet Union to their own elected officials: “Trust, but verify.”

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