Citizens will put up with a lot—but not with anyone who imperils our future. There is practically nothing that lowers American happiness more than taking away our faith in a better tomorrow. Data from the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey in 2004 show that, even if two people have the same income, education, race, sex, family status and political views, a lack of optimism about the future lowers the likelihood by nearly 50% of one saying he or she is “very happy” about the present.

Most Americans see their best future in the free enterprise system when (as a March 2009 Pew Research Center poll found) 70% of respondents agree that, “people are better off in a free market economy, even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time.” There is no evidence that more than a minority of Americans accept the idea that a $17 trillion national debt, greater reliance on government for jobs and health, and hyper-progressive taxation offer the hope they deserve for themselves and their children.

The administration and Congress can deny these truths with charges of un-Americanism and implausible conspiracy theories about the current citizen demonstrations. But opinion polls deliver an honest expression of unhappiness over the direction our nation is taking. Woe betide the leaders who ignore this fact.