The Consent Of The Glibertarian

By Jesse Taylor
Sunday, March 7, 2010 19:49 EDT
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imageInstapundit takes one of his inadvisable trips out of passive-aggressively quoting people and then pretending that he’s not actually saying anything to argue that the federal government is illegitimate.

“Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This is boilerplate American history, and something that Americans — and, in particular, America’s political class — have long taken for granted.

But now things are looking a bit dicey. According to a recent Rasmussen Poll , only 21 percent of American voters believe that the federal government enjoys the consent of the governed. On the other hand, Rasmussen notes, a full 63 percent of the “political class” believe that the government enjoys the consent of the governed.

“Consent of the governed” is a standard whose meaning is debatable even for people who actually study political science – does it mean unanimous consent? Does it mean that all people in the nation have a say in electing their representatives? Does it allow for an executive with power to appoint officials with enforcement and lawmaking capacity? These are remarkably complex questions for which there is no satisfactory answer; I’m pretty sure that if anyone is going to answer them, it’s not the sample selection of a Rasmussen poll.

Of course, Rasmussen does have its “political class” designation, which is based on a rigorous three-question screening process which has the same sort of carefully measured calibration as the animatronic puppets at Chuck E. Cheese asking you if you like fun and pizza. If you don’t, I’m pretty sure you’re Harry Reid.

So, Rasmussen conducted an essentially meaningless poll showing that the vast majority of “Mainstream Americans” don’t believe that the government lives up to some nebulous and undefined standard of governance, which is as close to scientific evidence as Tea Partiers will ever come.

Let’s roll with it.

But forget the views of America — where, it seems likely, more people believe in alien abductions than in the legitimacy of our rulers — and look just at the more cheerful view of the political class.

Even among the rulers, only 63 percent — triple the fraction of the general populace but still less than two-thirds of the political class — regard the federal government as legitimate by the standards of America’s founding document. The remainder, presumably, are comfortable being tyrants.

I’m pretty sure that Rasmussen doesn’t have the three-question solution to figuring out if they’re talking to Joe Blow, local man of the people, or Gaspar Moneybags Von Politico, conniving villain of socialist Islam. I’m also pretty sure that statistically speaking, they aren’t talking to a single “leader” at all. But again, this isn’t about accuracy or coherence or even the actual legitimacy of the government, it’s about taking your crayons and writing some squiggles on a page so that you can show mommy and daddy that you’re a real live scientist philosopher. And you should also get ice cream, or else they will not have the consent of the cranky.

These numbers should raise deep worries about the future of our republic. A nation whose government does not rest on the consent of the governed is a nation whose government holds sway only by inertia, or by force.

It is a nation vulnerable to political shocks, usurpation, or perhaps even political collapse or civil war. It is a body politic suffering from a serious illness. Those who care about America should be very worried.

Do I not care about America because I think that the rumblings of civil uprising should rest on more than a market research poll for the Tea Party? Or is this concern trolling just a masked threat?

I’m gonna go with masked threat, but with the caveat that Glenn Reynolds is a white dude, so it’s just going to be a bunch of completely unaffiliated rogue cowboy solider-men doing random crazy shit that’s totally justified.

But we’ve had enough political drama in recent years, so I’ll go for a more prosaic comparison: The once-heady brew of American freedom has become watery and unsatisfying.

I’m gonna cut out the next four tortured paragraphs of analogy; suffice to say it involves Schlitz beer, “heady brews” and the vague undercurrent of desperate, Schnapps-fueled hookups at CPAC. Anyway:

It gets worse. Not long ago, the federal government enjoyed a stellar reputation for honesty and competence. Now, according to a recent CNN poll, three-quarters of Americans think federal officials aren’t honest . (There’s no separate survey here on what the “political class” thinks, but I suspect that its numbers would be sunnier, but still appalling, as above). So what do we do with a federal government that many voters think is illegitimate and dishonest?

When the hell did the federal government enjoy a stellar reputation for honesty and competence? (And no, 2002-era soiled Fruit of the Looms from Chris Matthews don’t count as evidence for this contention.) Per the conveniently unlinked poll, the surveyed sample thinks that the government’s been dishonest since George Washington was in office. In fact, here’s what the Polling Director who did the poll says:

“It’s all part of a rich tradition in American history – the belief that politicians are not always telling the truth,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

I’m just gonna toss out that Keating Holland sounds like a POLITICAL CLASS name to me, and so he is probably planning to illegitimately dry hump an underage Christian woman made out of tax dollars and confiscated guns. Or something – Rasmussen’s Political Class fanfic is just so inconsistent!

In the past, America has managed to reinvent itself without transformations as wrenching as the Civil War or the Revolution. As the legitimacy of our current arrangements becomes increasingly threadbare, it is perhaps worth thinking about how this might be accomplished again. Because when a great beer dies, it’s sad. But when a great nation dies, it’s tragic.

Do you get this, people? America could die – tonight, even! – if we don’t immediately change the hoppy flavor of democracy back to something that has more taste and preferably lets us ignore the people who’ve agreed to have sex with us, like all good beers and democracies do. The very civilization we have come to love and adore is dying. And if you love it, you will go back to the old days when George Washington was lying to us about having wooden teeth.

Everyone knows he had a platinum grill.

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
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