Trashing Trust in Government
The 2004 election calamity is certainly multi-causal, but a major factor that hasn't received its due attention is the changing character of trust in government. For forty years, the GOP has systematically attacked the specter of "government," always a code word for any authority not part of the conservative movement. Aided by naive libertarianism, movement conservatism has villified government while simultaneously convincing the public that their government programs are non-government.
They have effectively transferred trust in government from our shared institutions to their partisan machinery. The civil service stands in the way of our national security, the state department is infiltrated with treasonous francophiles, and the CIA is filled with partisan backbiters. Social programs are led by liberal elitists who want to take money from poor white folks and give it to rich black folks, courts are led by activists who want to force men to wear dresses, agencies are led by socialist land grabbers. Meanwhile, corporate pork is economic stimulus, tax expenditures are "giving money back to the people," reregulation is deregulation, and on and on.
In the wake of 9/11, public trust in "government" was at an all time high. Over the last three years, the campaignistration effectively seized that trust, to the point where a significant subset of the population was far more willing to accept obvious untruths from the conservative machine than actual facts from objective and professional information sources.