Jonathan Chait

When Charts Attack WSJ Columnists

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Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist Daniel Henninger writes today that the democratic agenda has caused public trust in government to collapse: "After one year of the charismatic, ever-present Barack Obama," he writes, "after passage of the party's totemic health-care bill, after spending zillions on Keynesian pump-priming, the American peoplewell beyond the tea partiershave the lowest opinion ever of national government."

Henninger helpfully accompanies his column with a graph charting public trust in government:

Wow -- public trust in government really has fallen since Obama took office in, um... 2004? Wait, it's possible something other than Obama's big-government binge is driving this trend. Maybe this is a function of economic conditions? Henninger says no:

I don't buy this. Something unique happened in the first Obama year, about the last thing the Democratic Party needed: The veil was ripped from the true cost of government. This is the ghastly nightmare Democrats have always needed to keep locked in a crypt.

Before the Internet, that was easy. Washington, California, New York, New Jerseywho knew what the pols were spending? The Democrats (and their Republican pilot fish) could get away with this. Not now. Email lists, 24/7 newspapers, blogs, TV and talk radiothe spending beast is running naked.

Huh. So, Henninger rejects the theory, which he ascribes to "Democrats," that economic conditions are driving public mistrust of government. He thinks it's that blogs, email lists, talk radio and TV now allow people to know how much the government is spending. There was no way to find this information out before.

Well, it's a theory. I'd argue that the correlation between economic conditions and public distrust of government is more of a demonstrable fact than some Democratic excuse:

Henninger's theory suggests that public mistrust in government won't come back down if unemployment returns to normal levels. Anybody want to bet on him revisiting this theory if he's proven wrong?

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