StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

Sorry Charlie: Americans Don't Want Government that's Smaller, They Want Government That's Less Expensive

29 Mar 2011
Posted by Stan Collender

This post by Josh Marshal at TPM makes me wonder if what's happening on the budget these days isn't the equivalent of the old Starkist commercial with Charlie the Tuna , the one that says "Starkist don't want tuna with good taste, it wants tuna that tastes good."

Take a look.


Josh talks in his post about a story by Alexander Burns at Politico that, while interesting, misses the key point about the current budget debate.

According to Burns, governors around the country are running into serious political problems when they try to do what they think they received a mandate to do at the last election -- reduce the size of government with significant spending cuts.  The governors are having a hard time explaining why, if that's what the voters want, there doesn't seem to be as much popular support when they actually try to cut spending.

The answer is actually quite simple: The governors (and, according to Burns, just about everyone else) misread what the voters said last November.

As Bruce and I have been pointing out for months here at CG&G, poll after poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans don't want smaller government; they just want the government they have to cost less.  With the exception of foreign aid, Americans state repeatedly and definitively that they don't want government to do any less than it is currently doing, they just don't want to pay as much to get it.

It's not surprising, therefore, that the governors are running into big problems when they come up with spending cuts that are based on actual program reductions.  In fact, it's entirely predictable.


I find it hard to believe

I find it hard to believe that professional politicians are worse at reading polls than amateur politicians. Especially when the same explanation must necessarily be used over and over again - one professional politician after another misunderstands what the voting public wants, all in very similar ways. This is just awfully unconvincing. An alternative explanation would be that professional politicians have decided to claim a mandate for something they want to do. This is pretty common behavior from politicians. Polls showed that the majority of the public, early in Bush Jr's first term, preferred a balanced budget to tax cuts. Bush wanted tax cuts. He campaigned to make tax cuts acceptable, and then he cut taxes. There was no mandate for tax cuts.

Cutting government spending is the goal of some very well organized, well funded efforts. It is also the goal (nominally, anyhow) of the Tea Party, which represents the latest form of GOP primary shock troops. When financiers and primary shock troops agree on a policy (or think they do), the views of the general voter are likely to be set aside, though some fancy talking may be needed to keep them from noticing.

If there were some claim being made by politicians themselves or by "informed sources" that this batch of political professionals has woefully misinterpreted polls, repeating that view would have some basis. This looks like making up an explanation, one which seems unlikely to hold water.

This just in...

So Americans are cheap. Anyone whose ever been in a service or contracting job will tell you that. The first words out of a customers mouth are, "I don't want to spend a lot of money". And I don't mean lately. (They also vote like they drive. But that's another column.)


IMO, the Governors did not misread the electorate. Rather, they overestimated
the post-election clout of the corporate-funded Teahad that elected them into

It is a classic bait-and-switch that the Teahad's handlers tried to pull on
the country and it is backfiring...badly...

Cuomo just cut NYS's budget by $10 billion, to full acclaim.

Yes, a "Cuomo" of all people, leader of the NYS Democratic party, actually cut, reduced -- did not "slow growth by" -- $10 billion. The first real-dollar spending cut in NYS in decades.

He did it while killing off an existing "millionaires' tax", cutting taxes. And he's done it to universal acclaim.

Except from the teachers unions, of course, who are screaming bloody murder about how increases of future spending on them is being constrained. NYC's teachers have received merely a 43% across-the-board pay increase during the Bloomberg years, they can hardly be satisfied with that. Also, the teachers unions are really upset about how this deal is putting pressure on them to agree to such radical actions as stopping 100% pay to teachers who aren't working because no principal wants them.

As Bruce and I have been pointing out for months here at CG&G, poll after poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans don't want smaller government; they just want the government they have to cost less

In my home town, Ossining NY, the school superintendent is paid $343,000 -- to manage a district with all of 4,500 students. Governor Cuomo's salary is $179,000 to run the entire state. Joe Klein, head of the NYC schools, was paid $250,000 to manage a system with 1.1 million students and a $20 billion budget.

How can she manage 4,500 students on such low pay? With the help of 26 other administrators receiving an average of $165,000 each.

And this is typical, the NY Times reports that in my county alone there are 12 other town and village school superintendents being paid more than $300,000. Of course, costs are correspondingly huge all the way down.

Yes, you and Bruce are right. Voters want govt to "cost less" -- which means to be *more efficient*, *waste less*. Yes, you and Bruce often talk about how the Republicans miss the boat by instead offering less govt. But when was the last time you talked about how the Democrats are missing the boat by ignoring the voters desire for govt that *costs less*?

After all, which party has been winning the most elections over the last three years? What happened to the Repubs wandering in the desert for a generation, as Bruce predicted in 2008? You go on about what the Repubs are doing to set themsleves up to lose the next election -- but never about what the Dems actually did to already lose the last two rounds of elections.

When was the last time you hailed a major initiative of the Democrats to make govt cost less? Or urged them to recognize the need to make one -- as all the polls show? I don't remember.

When a governor named "Cuomo" operating out of Moscow-on-the-Hudson is so far ahead of you on this issue, you are really behind.

I am laughing my butt off at

I am laughing my butt off at how these stupid republicans catered to the teahadists to get elected, and now they are realizing that they are gonna get killed if they actually try to do the stuff they promised the teahadists.

Not entirely true...

Many Americans are in favor of a smaller government, just not at the expense of the parts they personally like, make the rest of it smaller. So when the cut is made, a given group speaks out against it. Enough groups speaking on behalf of their cause makes it seem like Americans don't want anything cut.

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