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OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING suspect Timothy McVeigh says millions of Americans share his anti-government sympathies.

Is this the raving of a madman? Apparently not. The latest public opinion poll for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a conservative think tank, found that about one-fifth of whites and blacks have zero confidence in government at any level.And left-leaning journalist Jacob Weisberg reports in a new book he thinks 70 percent of Americans have lost confidence in the national government.

This distrust is extraordinary.

The latest poll by the Freedom Forum of news reporters and bureau chiefs in the nation's capital found that only 2 percent identify themselves as conservatives and only 4 percent are registered Republicans. Eighty-nine percent of them voted for Bill Clinton in 1992.

The media never tell us what is wrong with government, only what is wrong with Republican attempts to downsize it. Yet the public is overwhelmingly turned off by government. Liberals blame the loss of confidence on Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich for demonizing big government, but the real answer is the increasingly unhappy experiences Americans are having with government.

Unlike in the 1950s, Americans today pay one-fourth to one-half of their incomes in taxes. Yet they get nothing back but oppression.

How did government get so far from people's control that they feel alienated from it? It began with Franklin D. Roosevelt's political intimidation of the Supreme Court. Roosevelt named justices who abandoned 150 years of constitutional intrepretation by voiding the delegation doctrine that had prohibited Congress from delegating its lawmaking power to agencies. Once bureaucrats got this power, they ran away with it.

The next step occurred when the federal courts declared they had the power to socially engineer the schools, neighborhoods, mortgage lending, university admissions, employment, promotions, layoffs and disciplinary actions in the name of desegregation. What made sense carried no weight.

Our elected representatives in Congress have done nothing about this usurpation of power by judges and bureaucrats.

The government's loss of legitimacy is a favorite topic on conservative radio talk shows. Many Americans feel that lacking legitimacy, the government is setting itself up to rule by coercion. These fears are reflected in a growing number of newsletters and books, such as "Black Helicopters Over America," that claim the government is building concentration camps to hold dissident "patriots" compiled on government lists.

There is a danger that government will overreact, as it did at Ruby Ridge and Waco, and respond with force to what it sees as "subversives," thus fueling the disaffection.

A better response would be to reaffirm some of the principles of the American founding. If we could generate some political leadership to restore the voluntarism, self-rule, and accountable govern-ment that made America great, people would again feel comfortable with their government.