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If any of the national public opinion polls are to be taken seriously, it seems that the more President Clinton is beleaguered by scandal, the more popular he gets.

Many, including myself, have criticized the polls. As a respondent in one recent survey, I can attest that the process tends to be badly skewed in favor of the status quo. But even the acclaimed Zogby poll shows Clinton with an approval rating of about 2 to 1. How do we explain this? Have the American people collectively gone mad? Are they simply rebelling against a press establishment they trust even less than the president? Are they playing tricks on the pollsters?

I don’t think any of those ideas fully explains the phenomenon we are witnessing. In fact, what we may be seeing could be a trend far more threatening to the foundation of the country. We just may have reached the point at which a majority of Americans have been bought off.

For these people, freedom means comfort and security, not liberty. Statists have long dreamed of a time in which they would create a large enough dependency class that could virtually dictate a new set of rules to the minority productive class. That time may have arrived.

Think about it. The top 5 percent of earners in this country pay most of the taxes. In fact, the top 1 percent pay more than 30 percent of the bills. At least in theory, that means 95 percent of the public can get more from Washington than they contribute. Because of the inherent and gross inefficiency of government, of course, the actual percentage of beneficiaries is considerably lower. But you see the point.

Suppose it’s actually only 51 percent of Americans who are on the dole.

We’re surely on the road to serfdom. Statists, with the masterful politician Bill Clinton leading the way, have succeeded in convincing far too many people — maybe even a majority — that America guarantees a certain standard of living to all of its citizens. The American Dream and the promise of opportunity have been supplanted in many minds by the government’s promise of economic entitlement.

America once promised there would be no government impediments to individual achievement. Everyone had the right to strive for success, for the pursuit of happiness. Now, we are told that our happiness lies in seizing the fruits of others’ achievements. It’s easy, too. The government does all the work and all of the coercion. So you don’t want to contribute to the National Endowment for the Arts? Try convincing the Internal Revenue Service you’re a conscientious objector to obscene art. It won’t work.

The real unalienable rights Americans enjoy, as delineated in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights have been watered down by the introduction of a whole new set of phony, government-granted rights to low-cost housing, public subsidies, health care, government education, even food.

Most of the federal budget today consists of what we call “entitlements.” These are taxpayer funds to which many Americans, some needy, some not, believe they are entitled. In other words, they feel they have a right to them – a right to other people’s hard-earned money. They don’t have to pay it back. They’re not grateful for it. They don’t have to do any work for it. They don’t even have to write a thank-you note. In fact, it’s not even their birthright as Americans that qualifies them for this entitlement. Plenty of newcomers – some legal, some not – get the money and the services, too.

Clinton is, understandably, seen as a protector of these programs – especially at a time when Republicans control Congress. Ironically, however, very few Republicans have enough courage to challenge entitlements. But Clinton understands this is his constituency and he actively and zealously guards its interests and seeks to expand it in the most clever ways.

Could this be one of the underlying sub-currents driving the polls? Scary. But, if so, it’s all the more reason to demand a massive restructuring of our federal government. If not now, when? Otherwise, the job is only going to get more difficult.

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