David Gergen has an interesting missive about the growing sense that the American government can’t handle the country’s problems and that calamity is around the corner. He focuses on the oil spill, and also notes the U.S. exposure to the decisions being made in Europe. If European government’s spiral into a debt-crisis driven economic meltdown, the United States will be pulled down with it.

He writes:

Across Europe, one finds people stunned at the rapidity with which this crisis has grown, threatening not only their weak economies but also their dreams of a European utopia with people living a honeyed existence. All that could go smash now. Indeed, it is ironic that Europe may now be forced to give up its strong welfare state even as the U.S. is moving toward it. But the immediate point is that the U.S. finds itself too much at the mercy of whether European politicians and publics now make the right moves.

It may take a while, but Americans are going to start feeling a lot happier about our country when we once again believe we have strong control of own destiny. Leadership, anyone?

Gergen may be right to a point: certainly, after the financial crisis and economic meltdown, many Americans feel vulnerable and like their personal financial fortunes are at the mercy of events outside of their control. Yet Gergen seems to think that government can someone reclaim the reins of the economy and society and then all will be well.

That’s a big misdiagnose of our current problems. Much has been written  on how government policy helped create the housing crisis, which was at the root of the recent economic crisis. The same can be said for what is happening in Europe. Gergen notes that the European dream of a life-long, state-sponsored holiday has been jeopardized by the economic crisis. Yet it seems that the dream itself-and the promises that the government made in trying to make that dream a reality-is the root cause of the crisis.

Europeans should have known that you can’t pay everyone not to work-with length retirement, generous paid leave programs, and all sorts of other state support and benefits. As the population ages and the working population shrinks further, those promises become more and more untenable. Politicians should have known this. It isn’t complicated. It’s basic math that tells you that you can’t run massive deficits without creating a day of reckoning.

Gergen notes the “irony” that America moves toward a European welfare state as the actual European welfare states teeters on collapse. But far from a throw away line, this is the heart of the pessimism and frustration that Gergen identifies. The American people may feel vulnerable that they can’t control oil spills and financial market meltdowns, but they are also frustrated because they can’t control Washington.

Our federal government just imposed a massive health care entitlement on a public that overwhelmingly didn’t want it. The President offered a budget that adds a trillion dollars to the debt each year. The American people don’t want this. They want to throw the bums out, but they worry that there are only other bums to replace them with.

The people may want “leadership” from Washington, but that’s leadership that is going to recognize that government creates more problems than it solves. They want leaders who are committed to getting government out of the way so that people-not the government-have more control of their destinies.