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Published Sep. 9, 2009

Liberals are flummoxed by the fact that obviously false and widely discredited claims about health care reform have not only taken root, but appear to be growing in acceptance.

According to a recent poll, most Americans now believe that if health care reforms pass, health care services will be rationed and taxpayers will be required to pay for abortions. And although Republicans are the most likely to believe this, they aren't the only ones. Nearly a third of Democrats and more than half of independents also believe it.

What gives? Is it partly the utter gullibility of some people? Sure. Is it partly deep-seated resentment of the black man in the White House? No doubt. But it's also something more fundamental: fluctuations of basic trust in the federal government.

These fluctuations highlight a quirk of recent American politics: According to an analysis of the New York Times/CBS News polls from the past 33 years, Americans seem to trust the government substantially more after a Republican president is elected than they do after a Democratic one is elected - at least at the outset.

Since 1976, the polls have occasionally included this question: "How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right - just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?"

The first poll taken in which this question was asked after Ronald Reagan assumed office found that 51 percent trusted the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time. For George H.W. Bush, it was 44 percent, and for George W. Bush it was 55 percent. Now compare that with the Democrats. In Jimmy Carter's first poll, it was 35 percent. In Bill Clinton's, it was 24 percent, and for Barack Obama's, it was only 20 percent. (It should be noted that the first poll conducted during George W. Bush's presidency came on the heels of 9/11.)

Surprisingly, Democrats' trust in government was the same or higher after a Republican was elected than it was after a Democrat was elected - even though all three Democratic presidents came into office at the same time that their party had won control of both chambers of Congress.

(It's curious the same party that believes in big government doesn't trust that government to do the right thing when Democratic leaders control it. Democrats are a curious lot.)

That said, it stands to reason that many people probably don't trust Washington on health care reform because, right now at least, they just don't trust Washington.