In recent days, the debt ceiling deal — which just passed the Senate and is about to be signed by the President — has sparked a fair amount of handwringing among liberals who worry that the fight shows the left has lost the larger argument over the proper role and scope of government in our society. Jared Bernstein and Kevin Drum have both argued that until liberals can make headway in that argument, the playing field in such fights will be dramatically tilted against them.

It’s hard not to agree with these folks when you look at findings like this one from the internals of the new CNN poll:

As you may know, the agreement would cut about one trillion dollars in government spending over the next ten years with provisions to make additional spending cuts in the future. Regardless of how you feel about the overall agreement, do you approve or disapprove of the cuts in government spending included in the debt ceiling agreement?

Approve 65

Disapprove 30

Sixty five percent approve of deal’s spending cuts. But it gets worse. Of the 30 percent who disapprove, 13 percent think the cuts haven’t gotten far enough, and only 15 percent think the cuts go too far. One sixth of Americans agree with the liberal argument about the deal.

Yes, the poll also found that 60 percent disapprove of the deal’s lack of high-end tax hikes. Yes, approval of the GOP is lower than that of Obama or Dems. Such findings have led many, myself included, to conclude that Dems were winning the P.R war in this fight in particular.

But the public disapproves of everyone’s handling of this mess. And while the public wanted the rich to kick in more, the poll finds that a plurality (49-42) believes the deal will help the economy, meaning a plurality believes the Republican argument that spending cuts are good economic policy.

You might argue that the public doesn’t really care about deficits; only jobs will dictate the 2012 election. You might also hold out hope that ultimately the public will prefer a Dem balance between spending cuts and public investment, rather than the extreme GOP vision. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the public is reflexively disposed to agree with the GOP’s economic worldview, and is all-too-willing to blame government for our economic doldrums.

“We will only find success when a majority of Americans agrees with us that government is something worth fighting for,” wrote Jared Bernstein. When looking at the above numbers, it’s hard not to agree. And it’s easy to understand why the White House ultimately decided — right or wrong — that it had to fight this battle almost entirely on the GOP’s turf. Liberals who still hope to shift the playing field have tons of work to do.