A recent compilation of surveys places the approval rating of the congress between 12% - 18% and the Obama Administration's between 36% - 38%. In the case of the congress, this is lowest recorded level of public confidence in the history of the republic. I am certain that a key component in the growing public disenchantment towards politicians of both parties is the phenomena of mission inflation. Or more specifically, as the state has failed to live up to its ever expanding roles and responsibilities, so has the public's disenchantment grown. Prior to the FDR Administration, the majority of public expected little more from the federal government than: attending to national defense, maintaining secure borders, providing a balanced budget, facilitating interstate commerce, upholding law and order, maintaining basic infrastructure (roads, rails, utilities), upholding a sound currency, tariffs and taxation. Presumably the higher approval rating of past generations was indicative of the fact that by and large the state was fulfilling its clear and limited responsibilities.
Since, then, the role of the federal government has expanded to include the responsibilities of: nation builder (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc.), central economic planner (via a heavily interventionist federal reserve), provider of health care, housing, food, education, social security, social engineer and zealous nanny. As its role has expanded, it has increasingly fallen short on its (previously established) core missions: borders are not secure, as demonstrated by the unabated flow of contraband (drugs) and human traffic (illegal immigration), public finances are in dire straights, infrastructure is crumbling and the dollar has substantially depreciated .Needless to say, it has not fared well in the expanded aspects of its core mission, as demonstrated by the near financial insolvency of the social security disability fund.
Progressives often declare that conservatives fail to recognize that without the state there would be no roads, schools, police or fire departments. Quite the contrary, the majority of conservatives fully affirm the government's responsibility in providing these vital services, but simply believe that ongoing mission inflation is intrinsically connected with their deterioration. But, more than anything I find it puzzling that many individuals who have little faith in the competence or even good will of their politicians seek to grant them an ever greater role in managing social and economic life. In the same breath they will decry the corrosive influence of special interests and corporate lobbyists on the political process, while also calling on the government to expand its control over health care and other vital sectors of the economy. Why? The idea that public welfare is best be served by a lean state focused on achieving clear, limited, vital missions is alien to their political lexicon.