Conflicting indicators

My morning news cruise fills me with revulsion and renews my sense of hope, all at the same time.

Let's get the revoltin' development out of the way first:

The Senate gave final congressional approval to an $850 billion increase in the public debt, the fifth such adjustment under President Bush and one reflecting the rising costs of the war in Iraq.

Adopted 53-42, the revised $9.815 trillion ceiling is intended to give the Treasury enough borrowing authority to manage through the end of Mr. Bush's presidency and into 2009…

When Mr. Bush took office in 2001, the debt limit stood at $5.95 trillion, a statutory ceiling that had remained since August 1997. By June 2002, a $450 billion increase was needed, and in 2003, 2004 and 2006, three increases added an average of about $855 billion each to finance government costs and wars overseas.

Please allow a moment for that to sink in.  "The fifth such adjustment under President Bush."  The man has been in office less than seven years.  And in that time, the national debt has exploded by 65%.  By what earthly standard is this man considered a "conservative?"

But yes, there is hope, and I see it in a story that I imagine most people would find depressing:

A new Gallup poll reveals that, as the organization puts it, Americans now "express less trust in the federal government than at any point in the past decade, and trust in many federal government institutions is now lower than it was during the Watergate era, generally recognized as the low point in American history for trust in government."

Among the findings: Barely half trust the government to handle international problems, the lowest number ever. And less than half express faith in the government handling domestic issues, the lowest findings since 1976.

Faith in the executive branch has fallen to 43% — only 3% higher than it was just before President Nixon's resignation in 1974. At the same time, trust in Congress, at 50%, is its lowest ever.

I'm sure this news will bring an obligatory round of hand-wringing from David Broder and the rest of the insufferable Beltway punditocracy, who just can't stand the thought that the people don't trust their leaders, even if the leaders are demonstrably incompetent and/or malevolent. 

Since the polling data are reminiscent of the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam years, let's quickly revisit that time.  It was no great shakes, but it was also a period when the federal government had no grand designs to reshape society or the rest of the world.  Even if Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter had wanted to execute grand designs, they couldn't have because the public didn't trust anybody with that sort of authority.  And that's a good thing.  Really, what does anybody remember about the period from roughly 1976 to 1978?  Nothing.  We could actually use a few years like that again. 

Alas, with massive debt, massive overseas wars, Peak Oil, and the cycles of generational passage staring us in the face, I suspect we won't be so lucky.

The Daily Reckoning