Friday, September 19, 2014

Don't Like Government? They Don't Like You Either

I found this little nugget tucked into the second page of the Washington Post when I finally got a round tuit:

Americans don’t care for Washington. New research suggests the feeling is mutual.
When asked about the most vexing problem facing the country at the moment, Americans are most likely to say the government itself. Official Washington is increasingly seen as out of touch with the rest of the country. But is it really?

That's what researchers Jennifer Bachner and Benjamin Ginsberg wanted to find out. They surveyed upwards of 850 Federal employees, Hill staffers, contractors, consultants, lobbyists and think tankers. While we know plenty about our elected lawmakers, we know much less about this group of Beltway insiders, who you can think of as the "policymaking community." As a group they play an active and direct role in crafting legislation and setting the tone of national policy debates, but as unelected officials they're largely insulated from the ire of voters.
. . .
"The most disturbing finding was that members of Washington policy community have a jaundiced view of ordinary Americans, and they didn’t know very much about ordinary Americans either," Ginsberg said.

When asked how much they thought the average American knew about a variety of policy debates, like raising taxes on the rich, warrantless wiretapping, and government's role in healthcare, policymakers most frequently said "very little."
Of course, being the house organ of the federal government, the Post's writers have to defend the governing class (their customers):
Policymakers aren't wholly unjustified in these assumptions - a 2010 Pew survey, for instance, found that the public knew basic facts about politics and economics, but was murky on the specifics. But a certain degree of responsibility for informing the public on these issues falls to these very policymakers. If the public is uninformed or misinformed, that's at least partly an indictment of Washington's own efforts to educate its constituents.
In my experience, what's not being said here is how ignorant the policy makers are of how things really operate out beyond the beltway. In science and environmental management, you can be pretty sure that the managers didn't end up there because they were the top students in the field. We're mostly governed by the ideologically committed C+ students.

And what they resent most of all is that people are reluctant to pay them what they think they are worth, and to hire all the flunkies they would need to totally govern our lives.

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