This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," April 24, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," rage against the government. A new poll shows growing frustration with Washington, and not just among Tea Partiers. What it means for the midterm elections.
Plus, battles are brewing in states across the country between public employee unions and taxpayers. And this week, New Jersey was ground zero as voters said no to rising pay and bloated pensions.
Plus, President Obama and the Democrats are running against Wall Street. But will their financial reform plans really rein in the big banks?
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
First up this week, a new poll that could spell big trouble for incumbents in Washington. A study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center finds by almost that by almost every measure, Americans are growing more disenchanted with the federal government and its elected officials. Just 22 percent of those polled said they can trust the federal government almost always or most of the time, among the lowest measures Pew has found in half a century. Only a quarter of Americans have a favorable view of Congress. And just 27 percent want to see most members re-elected, about the same level as in the fall of 1994, just prior to the mid-term elections that saw Democrats lose control of both the House and the Senate for the first time since 1954.
Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Jason Riley; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.
Dan, if you look at the chart you see that the trust in government was high before the 1960s, had a bounce up in the 1980s under Reagan, and again after 9/11. But now the numbers are stunning, 20 percent. How do you explain it?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, I think there are two things going on, Paul. The numbers fall off the cliff after 2000 and that's the presidency of George W. Bush.
GIGOT: But there was a bounce after 9/11.
HENNINGER: There was a bounce because the country came together. But the line goes straight down. It's two things. First of all, it's, I think, the extraordinary bitter partisanship that has developed between the two parties. The two parties have pulled apart. The Democrats are kind of the party of the public sector, that Republicans are over here, more or less, and have a hard time. This really annoys people.
But below the surface, there has been an economic issue, which I think relates to the states as well, like California and New York. And when you got to September, 2008, and you had this big financial implosion on top of the recession, a tremendous amount of economic anxiety got built into the system. And I think people got worried about the way the government was handling these tremendous economic problems. They already had a lot of skepticism, but they're feeling now that they just do not have the confidence to handle the problem —
GIGOT: And you're saying this is fundamentally about economic anxiety?
Jason, or is this about the size of government?
RILEY: Well, I think the polls showed that the interpretation of the numbers, they said that the discontent with the government generally does track with the economy. In the '70s, there was a lot of discontent. In the early '90s, there was a lot of discontent. There was less so in the '80s, however, and less low in the late '90s. So there is some correlation —
GIGOT: But that suggests this isn't a libertarian sentiment. It's about the fact that times are tough. And when the economy gets back, that people will say the government is doing well.
RILEY: Other numbers suggest there is a libertarian string here. For instance, 30 percent say that government is a matter threat to their personal freedom. That's up from 18 percent in 2003. That would suggest a libertarian strain here.
GIGOT: So how much, Kim, is this a reaction against the Obama agenda, the Democratic agenda that will go away if somehow there's a check put on those — those expansion of government plans?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: You know, the Democrats have made a huge mistake here, because the more we look at polls like this — and then we have this interesting survey that was done about the tea party movement last week. What you're actually getting is a vision of a group of people out there, and a growing number of them, who actually were very angry about things even before the financial crisis, OK. They felt that Congress was nonresponsive. They looked at the Republicans, there was these corruptions, these scandals. They voted them out.
And now, instead, they still have an ethics issue with Charlie Rangel. They were worried about earmarks and spending. They got rid of the Republicans and instead they get the Barack Obama team and the stimulus spending and all its spending and money. So there is this feeling that government is utterly nonresponsive to what they want. It doesn't matter who they elect.