Faces versus Policies
By Bryan Caplan
Pundits love telling us that voters are “fed up” with politics as usual. Candidates follow suit, insisting that — unlike their competition — they’re really listening to the American people.
Nonsense. Public opinion data strongly confirm that the status quo is popular. All the big components of the federal budget enjoy broad support. When asked whether government should do less of something, more of something or stick with the status quo, the average American almost always sticks with what he has.
Surely Americans want serious change on Iraq, you say? True, about 60 percent of Americans now say that the war was a mistake. But given the available options, voters are still getting what they want. If Iraq were a stable and enthusiastic ally, we’d like to leave today, but that’s not on the menu. Most Americans now favor a timetable for withdrawal, but how many would want to stick to a schedule if that meant handing Iraq over to radical Islamists? In a few years, the majority may be ready for “peace at any price” — but not yet.
I wrote this months before Obama and Huckabee claimed the Iowa primaries demonstrated America’s desire for “change.” But perhaps we’re just talking past each other. The caucus winners are right that Americans periodically want a change in faces. I’m right that Americans do not want big changes in policy. The hallmark of a shrewd candidate is his ability to convince people that faces are policies.