It's harder than usual these days to sort through the cacophony that emanates from the nation's capital and find anything close to reason. The average American voter may be doing a better job of it than the average Washington pundit.
The cacophony has grown louder and wilder in recent days due to a quick succession of executive branch debacles: the cynical cover-up of the Benghazi assault; the IRS oppression of conservative and independent nonprofits; the NSA's vast data-mining operation in cahoots with the nation's telecommunications providers; and, now, the Obama administration's decision to arm Syrian "rebels" (a.k.a al-Qaida).
A Rasmussen poll released Wednesday -- before President Barack Obama's decision to intervene in Syria -- showed that likely voters consider the NSA's surveillance the most important national controversy, but how we feel about it is a bit complicated.
First, the pundits, a few of whom have weighed in with integrity and clarity: On the right, Charles Krauthammer points out that, in line with Supreme Court rulings on what we now call "snail mail," the "newly revealed" NSA data-mining of phone call patterns to identify terrorist networks is not a constitutional problem at all, while Glenn Beck confesses that he erred in defending it when George W. Bush did it (so much for "newly revealed"), because a civil liberty forfeited to friends is something the bad guys (the Obama administration) will later use to harm you.
On the left, the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus and Dana Milbank mourn the Obama administration's fall from transparency/grace and the sudden acquiescence of the (Bush-hating) left to Obama's civil rights violations.
These brave souls have scant company -- perhaps because the left-wing media and the Obama administration are so intermarried it's ridiculous -- but against heavy odds, the American public is actually paying attention, drawing some interesting conclusions and revealing a clear frame of mind: idealistic but wary.
While 35 percent of voters (per Rasmussen) deem NSA surveillance the most important national issue right now, a majority of citizens (56 percent) support the federal government's tracking of phone calls records, according to the Pew Research Center, and 62 percent say that the fight against terrorism is important enough to justify an infringement of personal privacy.
On the other hand, Mr. Obama's approval ratings have hit a one-year low, a multi-poll average of 46.9 percent.
Also at a low point is our collective trust in government. In the same Rasmussen poll last week that asked voters to rank various national controversies, 75 percent of the 1,000 likely voters surveyed said they "trust the federal government to do the right thing" only "some of the time" (47 percent) or "rarely or never" (28 percent).
Only 24 percent trust the federal government most or all of the time.
Rasmussen also found that 68 percent of us think it's likely the feds, despite their assurances to the contrary, are eavesdropping on our conversations. And 57 percent think that other government agencies will use the mined data to harass political opponents (a la the IRS).
What we average citizens are distinguishing between is theory and practice. In theory, we agree that the war on terror necessitates the NSA's program, but in practice we don't trust the government not to abuse this power.
The distinction between the policies we support and our faith in those who implement them extends to other areas besides NSA surveillance.
For instance, various polls found support for background checks on gun buyers as high as 90 percent, but 44 percent of us think the government will use any resulting database to confiscate private citizens' guns.
The average voter remains idealistic but wary. We still believe that government of the people, by the people and for the people is possible and preferable to all other systems, but we have the good sense to evaluate those currently steering the ship of state and find them unworthy. We get the opportunity to express ourselves every two years.
When the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance was exposed in December 2005, it became a galvanizing issue in the 2006 congressional elections, which gave Democrats control of both congressional chambers and brought Mr. Obama to the Senate.
After Obamacare was passed in late 2009 despite never having a majority of voters' support, the Republicans regained the House in 2010 and trimmed the Democrats' edge in the Senate. Now we learn, in short order, that the IRS is harassing independents and conservatives, that the NSA has expanded its data-mining program and that our country is going to intervene in Syria's civil war.
We have little trust in government, and when what little trust we have is abused, we clean house.
Ruth Ann Dailey: firstname.lastname@example.org.