Friday, March 23 , 2018, 7:57 pm | Fair 59º


Harris Sherline: What Do the American People Want?

Politicians should know that in our diverse society, not everyone feels the same way about issues

How many times have we heard politicians say, “The American people want ...” followed by a statement of what the particular politico wants? How is it that the American people invariably want whatever the politicians want?

Various polls are usually cited to support their position, but closer inspection reveals that even the polls are in conflict depending on who commissions them — the respective political parties, various media outlets such as ABC or CNN, candidates for office, or perhaps some special interest or lobbying group.

So, what or whom are we to believe?

Comedian Groucho Marx’s oft-quoted saying “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” comes to mind.

The Tea Party rallies leading up to the November 2010 election were a clear expression of what a large segment of the American people want, which was to stop spending money we don’t have. But the politicians in Congress chose to ignore the clearly articulated wishes of the “American people” and to adopt policies that were in direct opposition to what the vast majority of the public said they wanted, claiming as they did so that the American people wanted what Congress gave them — specifically unbridled, unfunded government overspending and Obamacare.

Generally considered to be a combination of libertarianism and conservatism, the Tea Party came to life to advance the ideas of limited government, lower taxes, and reduction of the national debt and the federal budget deficit.

Wikipedia reported, “As of 2010, the Tea Party movement is not a national political party, does not officially run congressional candidates and its name has not appeared on any ballots, but it has so far endorsed Republican candidates. The Tea Party movement has no central leadership but is composed of a loose affiliation of national and local groups that determine their own platforms and agendas. For this reason, the Tea Party movement is often cited as an example of grassroots political activity.”

Since the Tea Party is not an official political party, no one knows for sure just how many members there are, which has been variously reported to be 10 percent to 30 percent of the electorate.

According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, it also has been reported that “the bailouts of banks by the (George W.) Bush and Obama administrations triggered the Tea Party’s rise. ... The movement’s anger centers on two issues, quoting Rasmussen as saying, ‘They think federal spending, deficits and taxes are too high, and they think no one in Washington is listening to them, and that latter point is really, really important.’”

Rasmussen also noted that more than 40 percent of voters believe the Tea Party will play a larger role in the 2012 elections, while 79 percent of those who identify themselves as Tea Party members believe their movement will have a greater impact on the next national election.

However, claims about what the American people want generally overlook the reality that the U.S. population is widely diversified in a variety of ways, including ethnicity, religion (or no religion), race (black, white, Hispanic, etc.), national origin (Mexican, Asian, Middle East, etc.), education, income, age, etc.

Thus, based on this broad array of differences, it is clearly not possible for “the American people” to all want the same thing, or approve of whatever particular policy various politicians may advocate. All of which makes the statement, “The American people want,” nothing more than bluster laced with rationalization to justify what the speaker wants.

A good example of the differing opinions about what the American people want is the issue of who should be able to vote. Portland, Maine, for example, is considering allowing noncitizens to vote in some elections, such as taxation of income and cars, or on school issues, because their children attend local schools. A recent ballot issue in San Francisco asked voters if they wanted to allow noncitizens to vote in school board elections if they are the parents, legal guardians or caregivers of children in the school system.

In Chicago, noncitizens are allowed to vote in school board elections, and New York City allowed noncitizens to vote in community school board elections until 2003, when the school board system was reorganized,

The foregoing examples are just some of the issues that divide the American people, who clearly do not all want the same things.

Any time you hear some politician start a comment with the statement, “The American people want,” you can be sure he or she has no better idea of what the American people really want than you or I do. That’s usually when I tune them out. How about you?

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog,

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >