“The root of this goes partially to the circumstances of the bitter partisanship that has dominated our politics,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who is leading an effort to streamline Senate procedures, “but it also goes to the fact that as the social contract unraveled . . . you had rules that worked well in the past that do not work well now.”
This absence of confidence is hardly confined to the economy. People want protection, from threats both domestic and foreign.
Gun control has long been one of the nation’s most polarizing issues, and so far most support for reinstituting the assault weapons ban or taking tougher measures has come from longtime advocates.
“You would think it would be common sense to support some of these measures, but I’m still not sure a lot of members of Congress get it,” said former Rep. Connie Morella, a moderate Republican.
Nor are Americans perceiving less of a threat from rogue nations or terrorists. “Iran and Islamic extremism are things that keep Americans awake at night,” said Stokes, after reviewing the polling, “and both of those threats are beyond Washington’s complete control.”
And so 2013 begins with at least an overlay of concern in America. Taxes are up, thanks to the end of the Social Security payroll tax cut. The 2010 health care law creeps closer to full implementation; next year, nearly everyone will have to obtain coverage or pay a fine. Federal deficits aren’t coming down significantly anytime soon.
Add to that the normal trajectory of second-term presidencies, which tend to lose momentum quickly, and the mood of the country today is tentative at best.
“We have an administration of great ambition, and they probably won’t be able to do what they want,” said Boaz. “They may just run out of steam.”