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Monday, January 25, 2010

Does MA Vote Signal That Arrogance and Stupidity Are Taking Over?

In the wake of Republican Scott Brown's victory last week in Massachusetts, some TV talking heads hinted that Americans are blaming President Barack Obama for the dreadful U.S. economy. Others hinted that Americans wonder why Obama has not already solved the numerous messes he inherited from George W. Bush.

That raises this question: Has the United States become an ungovernable nation of impatient, whiny, self-obsessed, misinformed nitwits? We are starting to think the answer might be yes.

Not that there's anything wrong with criticism of Obama. We've criticized the president, mainly for having his priorities out of whack. In our view, he should have discredited the Republican "brand" by pushing for investigations of likely Bush-era crimes and then tackled difficult issues such as health-care reform.

We like to think our criticism is constructive and based somewhat in reality. But to blame Obama for the economy? To suggest that he should undo eight years of Bush incompetence in roughly one year? Makes me wonder about the future of our country. And it makes me think of a couple of op-ed pieces I read a few weeks back.

Many Americans born after World War II seem imbued with the notion that our country is blessed with an unendingly bright future.

Recent opinion pieces by two prominent writers indicate that America's halcyon days might be coming to an end--and the Scott Brown vote adds fuel to that fire. Why could America be in trouble? The twin plagues of arrogance and stupidity seem to be raging across the land, raising this question: How long can a country thrive when its populace is too proud and too clueless to notice the warning signs all around?

Neal Gabler deals with arrogance in a piece titled "One Nation, Under Illusion." David Brooks, of the The New York Times, unwittingly drives home the stupidity point with "What Independents Want."

In a stunning development, Gabler dares to tell the truth about the American people:

The hoariest and most oft-repeated cliche in American politics may be that America is the greatest country in the world. Every politician, Democrat and Republican, seems duty bound to pander to this idea of American exceptionalism, and woe unto him who hints otherwise. This country is “the last, best hope of mankind,’’ or the “shining city on the hill,’’ or the “great social experiment.’’

Gabler, a progressive, even takes Jimmy Carter to task for once saying that we needed a “government as good as the American people.’’

Carter was speaking when Watergate was fresh, and government had been disgraced, but still. The fact of the matter is that whenever anything really significant has been accomplished by our government, it is precisely because it was better than the American people.

Want proof? Gabler digs into history to provide plenty of it:

Think of World War II, America’s entrance into which was strenuously resisted by the populace until Franklin Roosevelt carefully laid the groundwork and Pearl Harbor made it inevitable. Think of civil rights, which Lyndon Johnson pressed despite widescale opposition, and not just in the South. Even then it took more than 100 years. Or think of the current health care debate in which Americans seem to desire some sort of reform, just not a reform that would significantly help people in dire need, while the Obama administration is pushing to provide that assistance. In the end, government has inspired Americans far more than Americans have inspired their government. They are too busy boasting.

When Americans aren't too busy boasting, they are too busy being stupid. Consider what Brooks has to say about "suburban independents," a bunch he says controls our political destiny. In fact, several reports have indicated that "independent" voters helped swing the Massachusetts election for Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat.

Brooks says these voters are "herds of cats who find out what they think through a meandering process of discovery." What an insult to cats. And as the proud owner of two adorable and smart cats, I take great offense.

How stupid are suburban independents? Less than a year after Barack Obama's election, on the heels of the George W. Bush debacle, they already were unhappy with Democrats. Writes Brooks:

The first thing to say is that this recession has hit the new suburbs hardest, exactly where independents are likely to live. According to a survey by the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, 76 percent of suburbanites say they or someone they know have lost a job in the past year.

So suburban independents want to solve the unemployment problem by turning to Republicans, the very crew that caused the economy to implode in the first place? Makes a lot of sense.

Want more evidence of stupidity in the suburbs? Consider this from Brooks:

The second thing to say is that in this time of need, these voters are not turning to government for support. Trust in government is at its lowest level in recent memory. Over the past year, there has been a shift to the right on issue after issue. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who believe that there is too much government regulation rose from 38 percent in 2008 to 45 percent in 2009. The percentage of Americans who want unions to have less influence rose from 32 percent to a record 42 percent.

So the Einsteins in the suburbs think the mortgage and banking crises that sparked our economic woes were caused by excessive regulation and powerful unions? Who knew?

Perhaps I'm being too hard on suburban independents. After all, I used to be one of them. In 1976, I cast my first presidential ballot for Jimmy Carter--and I am proud of that. But starting in 1980, I fell for the Reagan "shining city on a hill" malarkey and voted Republican in three straight presidential elections. Only when I approached my mid 30s did I come to my senses, voting for Bill Clinton in 1992 and going straight Democrat ever since.

Essentially, I was a political dimwit in my 20s and early 30s. I didn't live in the suburbs for most of that time, but I was a product of that environment. And I was too busy trying to build a career and catch the occasional date to be bothered with staying informed. Unfortunately, like many of today's clueless suburbanites, I didn't have the decency not to vote. Makes me think maybe we should raise the voting age to 35.

I guess I can cut myself some slack for finally coming out of my daze. But Reagan's cowboy capitalism has had 30 years to erode the fabric of our society. How much longer can we move forward in a Gipper-induced stupor? As Gabler writes, arrogance and stupidity can extract a high price:

None of this would make much difference if the self-congratulation was just harmless bragging. But there are consequences. A country that believes it is the greatest in the world is also less likely to be constrained by that world. One could argue that the Iraq war was a direct result of a sense of national infallibility. So was our willingness to torture, our reluctance to admit our mistakes in Afghanistan, our culpability in the global recession, and our foot-dragging on global warming. Such a nation is also less likely to introspect or to strive for true greatness because it believes its greatness has already arrived.

Will 2010 be the year that America begins to turn back in a healthier direction? The Brown vote in Massachusetts indicates that the answer probably is no. But Gabler suggests Americans need a wake-up call to start the healing process from unfettered cowboy capitalism. And the healing cannot begin too soon:

A nation that brooks no criticism, a nation that feels it is always better than any other, a nation that has to be endlessly flattered and won’t face the truth, a nation whose people think they possess some special moral exemption and wisdom, a nation without humility is a nation spoiling for calamity.

We’ve been living in a fool’s paradise. The result may be a government that is as good as the American people, which is something that should concern everyone.


Contrarian said...

All those rubes are the same voters who elected our President. If we stand for democracy, we must stand for the right of people to be wrong.

If you have a solution to that problem, we're all ears.

legalschnauzer said...


You make a good point, and I don't have a solution. It's hard to figure how someone could vote for Obama for president and then turn around roughly one year later and vote for Scott Brown. But apparently quite a few folks in MA did that. A real head-scratcher.