Althouse on Alito
isomin at gmu.edu
isomin at gmu.edu
Thu Nov 3 08:12:17 PST 2005
I would suggest that distrust of public officials is actually a good thing and is not at all a new phenomenon in American politics. Certainly, it was part of the Framers' conception of how the Constitution should work, as we can see in Federalist 10 and 51, among other things. Distrust creates a healthy skepticism about government and leads to tighter constraints on wrongdoing by our leaders.
The period from roughly 1945 to 65, which some now look back to as the standard by which trust in goverment should be judged was actually, in my view, an aberrational period of unusually high trust caused by an unusually high degree of ideological consensus among elites. A parallel is the 19th century "Era of Good Feelings."
Finally, I would argue that it should not be surprising that top political leaders are often willing to cut corners on the truth in order to get in power and stay there. Those too ethical to do so are unlikely to reach high political office in the first place, as they will be outcompeted by those less scrupulous than themselves. As I have argued in numerous articles (yes, it's shameless self-promotion time!), we have a large and complicated government and a voting public that has only very limited knowledge of politics and public policy. This leaves plenty of room for deception and manipulation by politicians. Those unwilling to take advantage of such opportunities will be at a competitive disadvantage relative to those who are.
If we want to change this fact (a very difficult undertaking), the first step is to recognize that it has structural causes and is not merely due to a few supposedly evil individuals such as Clinton, Bush, or Rove.
Assistant Professor of Law
George Mason University School of Law
3301 Fairfax Dr.
Arlington, VA 22201
e-mail: isomin at gmu.edu
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