May 25, 2012

"Do you agree or disagree with this statement: The most frightening words you could hear are 'I’m from the government and I’m here to help'?"

Goofy poll question requires people to puzzle over whether to take jokey hyperbole literally. But 32% of likely U.S. voters did agree with the famous Reagan remark. Rasmussen, the rascally pollster, says "Ronald Reagan would be disappointed."

When you're polled, you don't get to explain. Among those who disagree with the statement, what is the percentage of people who thought things like "Actually, I think the government is often quite helpful," and what is the percentage of people who thought things like "It would be much more frightening to hear 'I'm afraid you have 3 weeks to live' or 'Your child has been in a terrible accident'"?

This is the same point I was making the other day about that poll where 31% of Republicans said they thought Obama is Muslim: "They might simply have thought that he was Muslim by inheritance through his father, a cultural matter, which would be quite true. Why make fun of the people who are stuck within the constraints of a poll question?"

This is how pollsters can crank out raw material for propagandists. I'm calling bullshit. I mean, it's a cowpie of distortion.


edutcher said...

Actually, Reagan would probably be happy about 80% of Conservatives feel that way.

The squishes and the Lefties wouldn't surprise him.

But, yeah, Ras isn't going to make his people work over the holiday, so he gives everybody a little filler material.

And Ann gives a woman's, not a womyn's, idea of worse alternatives. A guy might think, "I'm from the IRS and I want to ask you about your last 1040".

Expat(ish) said...

I would say: that depends.

If my house has just blown away in a Wizard of Oz hurricane and the words are coming from a nice young person serving in the NC National Guard, then I'd be dee-double-dang-delighted.

If it's some overweight rayon wearing pettifogging 'crat from the EPA, well, not so much.

If it's a liberal arts major from up north come to help us improve North Carolina schools, then not at all.

Which @Ann, proves your point, of course.


Thorley Winston said...

Re: Obama’s religion – I don’t claim to know what Obama personally believes but I tend to think he was upfront that he joined Wright’s “church” for political reasons and abandoned it when it became a political liability. Whatever he chooses to self-identify as his faith has about as much veracity as what a Harvard law professor self-identifies as her ethnicity.

Mitchell said...

It would have been a simple matter to ask whether the respondent agrees or disagrees with the sentiment expressed by the statement.

That's how we know we're dealing with rubbish.

Thorley Winston said...

Speaking as someone who has considers themselves to be a libertarian/conservative, the things that I object to most about government are things like wealth redistribution specifically entitlement programs for the middle class and corporate welfare. These are not things that generally involve a lot of direct contact between the government and private citizens (other than sending recipients other people’s money). On the other hand things that a lot of people complain about like the DMV and post office generally don’t upset me that much.
Or to put it another way – my beliefs compel me to dislike the fact that the government is doing things that I think it ought not to do but not necessarily the people who it employs.

Bender said...

I seem to remember it as a rather standard speech line, but I found only two sourced usages.

An August 13, 1986 newsconference, where he used the word "terrifying" -
Amid general prosperity that has brought record employment, rising incomes and the lowest inflation in more than 20 years, some sectors of our farm economy are hurting, and their anguish is a concern to all Americans. I think you all know that I've always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ''I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'' A great many of the current problems on the farm were caused by government-imposed embargoes and inflation, not to mention government's long history of conflicting and haphazard policies.

And then in a speech on July 28, 1988, where he used the word "dangerous" -
Through all these decades, despite drought and misfortune, American agriculture continues to succeed. And there's a secret to it. It's one that's been emphasized to all of you because it's part of FFA philosophy. It's the secret of letting the consumer or the marketplace, not government planners, make the ultimate decision about what is on the shelves of our grocery stores or in the ships that carry American products across the seas.

When I first started traveling abroad as President, especially to our annual economic summits, I suggested that the best foreign aid or development program the United States could give the world was a crash study in free enterprise. And this idea was, to say the least, greeted with skepticism. But when America's economic miracle took over and as we created during the past 67 months 17 million new jobs, I noticed that the idea of fostering growth through encouraging the entrepreneur began to take hold -- even to the point where the emphasis on agricultural subsidies, once so sacrosanct in other nations, is giving way at these summits to ideas on how to develop more free enterprise. There seems to be an increasing awareness of something we Americans have known for some time: that the 10 most dangerous words in the English language are, "Hi, I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help." [Laughter]

Well, of course, sometimes government can help and should help -- natural disasters like the drought, for example -- but we need to look to a future where there's less, not more, government in our daily lives. It's that philosophy that brought us the prosperity and growth that we see today. That's why we've proposed nothing less than a total phaseout by the year 2000 of all policies that distort trade in agriculture, and I'm speaking of worldwide. This proposal reflects one of my abiding beliefs -- I think it's a belief that you share: The solution to the world agricultural problem is to get government out of the way and let farmers compete.

--Remarks to Representatives of the Future Farmers of America, July 28, 1988

bagoh20 said...

If you run one, it's the scariest thing you can hear at your business.

You know that:

1) They are most definitely not here to help you.

2) There will be much paperwork.

3) You will need to do foolish things for silly reasons.

4) It will cost you a lot and give you nothing.

5) It will include extortion, where you must choose between submission or hurting your employees and yourself.

I have my business specifically tucked in between cities where it misses most local government jurisdictions. We hide like prairie dogs, afraid to raise our heads. We send the beast nearly half our profit hoping it will be satiated and not squish us under it's huge thumb.

Did you know that the government actually speaks with a cockney accent?

Hitcher's Thumb

john said...

Maybe it's because 68% now work for the government.

Bender said...

"Terrifying" is a bit of hyperbole, as is intended by a humorous line. But it is not hyperbole by much, and it is not really all that much of a joke.

Most people want to be left alone. When that cop car pulls up behind them in traffic, they do not feel happier or glad, they think, "What the hell do you want? Go away." But it is not limited to occasional cop cars just happening to be behind us -- government is involved in every aspect of our lives -- you cannot get away from it. Most people long for the day when they can be over and done with government in their lives, but invariably, like with Michael Corleone, "just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in."

bagoh20 said...

I live and work in a large metropolis with violent street gangs. I've had cancer twice. I fly thousands of feet above the ground tied to a piece of cloth. I hike alone in the wilderness. I spend a couple hours a day driving on freeways with others over 80mph with everyone on their cell phones, but on a daily basis the thing I fear most is that my government will hurt me somehow. The other risks are under my control and understanding. But, will my government bust in my door and shoot my dogs? Will they take away my car and leave me stranded with a big hassle and expense. Will they pull me over and fine me hundreds of dollars. Will they dissagree with my tax filing or my property line, or how many dogs I have? Will they send me to jail to be raped. I don't do anything to deserve being threatened, but I know it's impossible to not violate one of the 1000+ laws added every year, and I know the level of competence and compassion of government employees. That combination is what's most scary. It's like a monkey running around with a loaded gun. I just don't want to make eye contact with it.

Methadras said...

Not the most frightening, but you know what it means when you hear it.

Bender said...

But, will my government bust in my door and shoot my dogs?

That's exactly what happened to a guy in Maryland. Police just busted in without knocking and started shooting, killing his two dogs.

And he was the mayor of the town.

And let's not forget Ruby Ridge.

traditionalguy said...

The door knocks are a thing of the past.

Today's Citizen Control Agencies just use weaponized Drones run by the affirmative action hires who majored in video war games. And George Zimmerman is in charge of enemy recognition training.

machine said...

So let the USA operate without a government and see how that turns out....

Bunch of whiners expect everything to be done perfectly...without having to pay for it either...

Tank said...


Two fallacies in one.


False dichotomy.

Good show old sport.

CWJ said...


Burke's aphorism ran something like that government which governs best, governs least; not governs not at all or doesn't exist. Tank's right - false dichotomy.

Unknown said...

Reagan's line - and whether having somebody from the government actually use it - depend entirely on whether or not the individual wanted/expected the government to "help" him do something. If we are invaded by China, and the Military shows up to help - great. If I am make some furniture in my garage using a table saw, and OSHA shows up and "helps" me by taking my table saw away and telling me I need to buy a new one that is safer, but twice as expensive, then I would of course throw the bastard out on his ear.

CWJ said...

Our hostess makes some very good points regarding polling. I was in the survey research business for years, and writing a questionnaire that will produce unbiased, useful results is one of the hardest things to do.

Questions tend to be written where one generally understands the meaning of affirmative or "agree" responses. So I developed the habit of analyzing what one might learn from negative and "disagree" responses. A good question should give you just as much actionable information regardless of the specific response.

bagoh20 said...

"So let the USA operate without a government and see how that turns out...."

Actually, that's what conservatives are trying to avoid, because that will be the result if it's not hemmed in pretty soon.

The only way the government will become nonfunctional is through the collapse that your ideology assures.

AllenS said...

The most frightening words you can hear are "Come out with your hands up."