Atrios makes a good point today:
Just adding on to Glenn's post, much opposition to the government actually doing anything decent for people comes from the idea that the government is going to take my tax money and give it to people who don't deserve it.
He goes on to note that carefully limiting benefits programs to certain "deserving" groups actually reinforces this view, while programs which benefit everyone are quite popular.
Atrios' point also explains why the people who fear the government are not as distrustful of big business. They think: "Sure, the firms are all crooks, but they steal other people's money, because I am smart and won't fall for their lies!" So it's a form of perceived self-defense to fight against the public option in health care. That is seen as benefiting The Other: the undeserving poor, minorities or uppity women or illegal immigrants. Or Someone Else! Not the person opposing the public option, even if she or he has no health insurance right now.
Yet Medicare, for instance, is extremely popular.
All this bears some thinking, because that atomization of the American society is not a pure accident. Keeping people in a state where they distrust all Others benefits some in power. Divide et impera.
The foundations for all this are much deeper, naturally. They come from the American history, the fast pace of immigration and the vast size of the country as well as the widely varying basic values.