Back in 1951, a few years after America dropped the only two nuclear bombs ever used in human history to stop a world war that had been ongoing for years and killed 60 million people, a movie about an alien that lands and tells the people of Earth that they must live peacefully or be destroyed as a danger to other planets may be relevant today, as Republicans in Washington threaten to bring the nation, and maybe the world, to a standstill if they don’t relent on shutting down the Federal government if President Obama and Senate Democrats don’t agree to suspend or end the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] by sunrise Tuesday, the start of a new Federal fiscal year.
And while the next 24 hours are critical, another deadline in mid-October, when a default on paying the federal government’s bill results in a world-wide financial catastrophe that some warn could deliver devastating consequences for America and all other nations who look to American as the world standard for responsibility if it defaults on paying its bills could really make the earth stand still.
As the hours tick down to tomorrow, Gallup offers a couple surveys that show the division of thought in America over government, its scope and size and reach, and how support of those who most want to shut it down—the Tea Party—is, curiously, at its lowest level since the grassroots movement took hold in 2010, in the aftermath of the nation preparing to participate in a new health care insurance system that promises new features and news costs that can start American down the road other advanced countries have trod with regularity and without controversy for decades.
Bad news for the Tea Party is that U.S. support for it is at a low ebb at a time when key issues of concern for the movement—funding for the Affordable Care Act and raising the U.S. debt ceiling—are focal points in Washington, with Tea Party-backed Sen. Ted Cruz prominently fights both policies, Gallup reported Monday. “The discomfort he has created in the Republican caucus is merely emblematic of the ambivalence national Republicans feel toward the movement.” While few Republicans outright oppose the Tea Party, Gallup’s survey indicated far more are neutral toward it than support it.
According to Gallup, Tea Party supporters and activists may not be fully satisfied with the GOP, but they feel just as negatively as Republicans do about the Democratic Party, indicating they have little alternative in national elections. Their frustration with the GOP, on the other hand, could result in more Tea Party-backed conservative challenges to Republican incumbents who don’t embrace Tea Party principles.
As Washington braces for another budget showdown, this time with the threat of defunding the new healthcare law in the mix, the key political force pushing for conservative policies sees diminished popular support. Fewer Americans now describe themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement than did at the height of the movement in 2010, or even at the start of 2012, Gallup noted. Today’s 22 percent support nearly matches the record low found two years ago.
In November 2010, days after the Republicans recaptured the majority in the House of Representatives, 32 percent of Americans pledged support for the Tea Party, or 10 percentage points higher than in the latest survey, conducted Sept. 5-8.
Opponents of the Tea Party now outnumber supporters 27-22 percent, which is similar to their edge in 2012. However this differs from most of Gallup’s earlier measurements, in 2010 and 2011, when supporters and opponents were either equally matched, or Tea Party backers had the slight edge.
Fully half of Americans, 51 percent, currently say they are neither a supporter nor an opponent of the Tea Party, or they have no opinion about it.
In addition to their overall advantage in numbers, opponents of the Tea Party also lead supporters in intensity. The majority of Tea Party opponents call themselves strong opponents, while supporters are evenly divided as strong and not strong supporters. The net result is that 17 percent of Americans consider themselves strong opponents of the Tea Party, contrasted with 11 percent who are strong supporters, similar to the balance seen in 2011.
The results of this Gallup poll suggest that the partnership between the Tea Party and the Republican Party may be waning. Although some of the Tea Party’s most visible representatives in politics today are associated with the Republican Party, and while rank-and-file Republicans are more likely to call themselves supporters than opponents of the Tea Party movement, a far greater number identifies as neither.
A majority of Democrats describe themselves as opponents of the Tea Party, which has also lost the support of two-thirds of Republicans identified as Tea Party supporters.
Sixty percent of Americans say the federal government has too much power, one percentage point above the previous high recorded in September 2010, Gallup reported today. At least half of Americans since 2005 have said the government has too much power. Thirty-two percent now say the government has the right amount of power. Few say it has too little power.
After about 30 years of listening to the drumbeat of anti-government advocates, it’s no surprise that Republicans and Democrats have become more divided in their perceptions of federal power, especially since the end of the Bush administration. Within a year of President Obama’s inauguration, Republicans’ and Democrats’ views on the issue diverged dramatically, leaving a wide divide between the parties that remains today. However, the current 43-point partisan gap is smaller than the 53-point gap measured in the fall of 2009.
Though Republicans tend to be more skeptical of government overall, this concern was tempered while President Bush was in office. However, Republicans’ concern reached new highs when Obama took office in 2009.
Democrats tend to be more comfortable with a more active government, more than half became concerned with the U.S. government’s power toward the end of the Bush years. The presence of a Democratic president in office likely leads Republicans to feel especially skeptical of the amount of power the federal government holds, leading to the large gap between the parties seen during Obama’s presidency.
If the federal government shuts down because Republicans and the Obama administration fail to agree on a budget, there will be plenty of blame to go around. The public remains divided over who would be more to blame if government shuts down. Many say they would blame the Republicans (39%) for such a standoff as say they would blame Obama (36%), with 17 percent volunteering that both would be equally to blame.
In the concluding scene from The Day the Earth Still, Klaatu, the alien from space, addresses assembled scientists, explaining that humanity’s penchant for violence and first steps into space have caused concern among the other inhabitants of the universe who have created and empowered a race of robot enforcers to deter such aggression. His warning: If the people of Earth threaten to extend their violence into space, the robots will destroy Earth.
“The decision rests with you,” he says before zipping off to Deep Space.
What may bring world-wide destruction today won’t come from a super race of law enforcement robots but from a strain of thinking egged on by Tea Party activists who think destroying America by defaulting on the national debt will have no repercussions, economic or political.
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