Dismal opinions of government are also fed by ready examples of the bureaucracy not doing its job well—from the handling of the Christmas Day bomber to SEC regulators watching pornography instead of doing their jobs. In the case of the Times Square bombing attempt, there were also lapses, and the administration response to the oil spill was not as fast as the White House would like us to believe.
Even well-intentioned legislation can create unintended consequences, conservatives argue. That was the chief claim against the $50 billion liquidation fund that was once a part of the Wall Street reform working its way through Congress. Republicans argued that the fund, meant to help dismantle banks that fail, would send the signal to investors that certain banks were safe investments. They would grow so big that that if they ever did fail, the fund wouldn't be enough. Government would have to step in to rescue them or risk damaging the wider economy. Late Tuesday, Democrats agreed to drop the provision.
Even when it comes to regulating Wall Street—and here public opinion supports more regulation—it's not clear that people want as much regulation as they think Democrats are suggesting. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, half of the 65 percent who support financial regulatory reform say it should be less strict than Democrats are proposing. Crises are a chance to showcase activist government, but they also often end in voters blaming the party in power. Given the number of unpredictable emergencies that have popped up since Barack Obama took office, Democrats may be benefiting now, but the story could change again tomorrow.