Public Belief

October 2005


Ten years ago, there was nothing bad one could say about President Clinton that was not easily believed. Ten years before that, there was nothing bad one could say about President Reagan that would be believed. Today we stand in the middle case with President Bush: half of the people believe him capable of any crime, while the other half still find him blameless and virtuous.

I am always mystified by what the general public is supposed to believe in. It just doesn't make any sense. At least it doesn't make any sense if one applies generally accepted truth to solve the mystery. It's a kind of self-frustrating logic, like catch-22. If you take it as gospel that we (in America) have a vigorous free press, then the actions of that press are inexplicable. If you decide that the press is prejudiced and expresses the opinion of a small, powerful minority (that owns the press), you can explain a lot, but your conclusions are discounted by the vast majority of people.

People would just naturally like to believe in things they want to believe in, regardless of whether they are true or not. Hence, the majority of people would rather not understand something than understand what they don't want to believe. This is why "intelligent design" is ascendant. This is why the party whose stated aims and goals are to advance the goals of the smallest segment of the population is in power in these United States.

This goes back to Ronald Reagan. In office, he was referred to as the "Teflon President." During his time in office, some very important and meaningful things happened:

These are facts in the public record. They are not disputed, even by the current administration, which is an almost carbon copy of the Reagan administration. And yet, one of the biggest networks (Fox naturally) found that Ronald Reagan was the most popular president of all time. How can this be?

It reminds me so much of the comments made by people in Italy and Germany in the 1930's. They would argue with their friends and neighbors about how horrible the fascists and Nazis were, about their many crimes, and about the dangerous things they were promising to do. And people would agree about the acts -- how could they deny them? But when the conversation came back around to the leaders of the fascists and the Nazis, always the same refrain: "No, he (Hitler or Mussolini, take your pick) is a great man of courage and conviction. He has moral values and his vision will take us through the current crisis into a new day!"

You can do the same thing today. Did George W. tell us things that were manifestly untrue in order to get us to agree to an insanely expensive war? Have the policies of this administration succeeded in anything other than magnifying the national debt to dizzying heights never before contemplated? Have his appointees failed in every reasonable task assigned to them? OK, then, so what do you say we should do? Impeach the administration for malfeasance and incompetence? "No, President Bush is a man of morality and character. He has done so much for us that we should trust him to take our nation and the world into a new day!"

Some people vilify the current administration. They point to the corruption and waste. They foam at the mouth when Bush's hand-picked representative at the UN votes to remove the words "we shall have respect for the Earth" from the statement of core principles of the UN. But their remonstrations go unreported. Again, we have a Teflon President. What do you think the effect of Katrina would have been on Mr. Clinton's watch? Do you think he would have remained in office two months?

This past week, we were treated to the spectale of the White House stage-managing "news" -- the pre-rehearsed "live" press event with the President talking with the troops in Iraq. This isn't news, it is bad theatre and a national tragedy. And what is most tragic is that half of the people want to believe in this kind of fairy tale, and the rest of us are just plain sick of the whole affair. I used to wonder why people left Germany rather than fight nazism. I am beginning to understand why they left all too well.

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