Politicians always insist they're paying attention to us. Hillary Clinton, for example, launched her Senate bid a few years ago with a "listening tour" of New York state. And every Friday while Congress is in session, the city of Washington clears out, with lawmakers flying home to host town-hall meetings with voters.
But if our leaders really were listening, we'd see lawmakers stampeding to enact the conservative policies the American people repeatedly say they want.
Consider a recent poll conducted by Democracy Corps, a Democratic outfit.
Registered voters were asked to select one of the following two statements: "I want Congress to first invest in areas like health care, education and energy, even if it means spending additional money," and "I want Congress to first focus on cutting wasteful spending and making government more accountable." A large majority (58 percent) opted for cutting wasteful spending. Little more than a third (36 percent) wanted lawmakers to spend -- or as the firm euphemistically put it, "invest" -- more.
The same survey asked voters to choose between these statements: "Government mostly stimulates the economy and job growth," and "government mostly gets in the way of the economy and job growth." Only 34 percent said government stimulates the economy, while 54 percent said it mostly gets in the way.
Liberal lawmakers can't be pleased by these results, which show a solid preference for conservative policies.
Clearly, if lawmakers want to heed the voice of "the people," they ought to make government more efficient (by cutting wasteful spending) and less intrusive (by making sure it's less involved in the economy).
At least one person is working from within to make the federal government more efficient. Lurita Doan is an entrepreneur President Bush brought in last June to run the U.S. General Services Administration. That's the federal agency that manages thousands of government-owned and leased buildings.
Doan says she wants to prove she can run a federal agency like a business (something voters would no doubt approve of). When she took over GSA, it had a deficit of more than $100 million, which she immediately slashed by ordering the agency to make a 9 percent across-the-board spending cut. It may be the first time in decades an administrator actually cut government spending.
But now Doan's under fire. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) wants her to testify before the House Oversight Committee "so that she can respond" to his allegations, among them that she awarded a no-bid contract worth $20,000 to a friend.
If Doan did steer business to a friend, that would be wrong. But it's worth wondering if there isn't a witch hunt going on here. After all, this is a woman who has angered important bureaucrats by slashing their budgets. Her agency manages $56 billion in contracts, and she's being grilled about a $20,000 award? The hearing (scheduled for March 20) should be interesting.
It's not just domestic policy where politicians seem at odds with voters.
Recently Congress has been considering options that would undermine the president's ability to win the war in Iraq. But as a recent poll by Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican outfit) indicated, voters still want to win there. Half said that "our troops should stay there and do whatever it takes to restore order until the Iraqis can govern and provide security to their country." A mere 17 percent said the United States "should immediately withdraw its troops from Iraq."
That all sounds like an excellent agenda: Slash wasteful spending. Reduce federal involvement in the economy. Win the war in Iraq.
The people have spoken. Will our leaders listen?
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times