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Oh, Say Can’t You See?

According to most polls, millions of Americans continue to look favorably upon President Bush. For heaven's sake, why?? For the answer, read on.
OK, so what's the deal? Why do polls consistently show, despite a recent dip, that still nearly half of Americans approve of President Bush's policies? This questions nags many of us on the opposite end of the opinion spectrum, those who find his administration, shall we say, a little less than honorable. We see his repeated justifications for invading Iraq as obviously and lamely false, but that's only the beginning: his blatant disrespect of the Constitution, stonewalling of investigations, relaxing of regulations that result in the fouling of the environment, ringing up record deficits to shovel billions to the wealthiest Americans, attacks on organized labor--these things (and more) seem, well, rather unseemly. This conclusion is not particularly difficult to reach, yet difficult it remains for millions of our fellow citizens. Why?

One explanation for this apparent mass disconnect from reality could be that the often-referenced polls are wrong. After all, I've never been asked by any of the poll people about my view of Bush's performance, have you? I've certainly been interrupted at dinnertime more than once to be queried about my thoughts on yet another school bond (what, $40-plus billion annually is not sufficient to educate California's kids?) or if a proposed concept for a new TV show sounds good (it never does) or if I'd be interested in purchasing what sounds like a whole butchered steer to stuff into a freezer I don't have (would you buy a used cow from this man?), but no one's ever called to probe my thoughts on Bush. I'm sure the more conspiracy-minded among us might suggest that these surveys are rigged, and given the Republican Party's propensity for dirty tricks, especially during this Rovian era of "push-polling" and other sleazy actions, the idea is certainly not inconceivable. But I have a little more faith than that in Mr. and Mrs. Harris, Gallup, Zogby et al, and I think their numbers (generally) are on the up and up. Now, on the other hand, if Halliburton ever gets into the polling business...

Another possibility for the insistence of a large segment of the population to continue to see Bush through rose-colored glasses is what I euphemistically call "the intelligence factor." It sounds a little more polite than saying that people who support Bush must be plain stupid. If this theory is accurate, we should all be afraid, very afraid, because it means there are scores of millions of dumb people walking around this country right now with our fates in their hands, and just how does one smarten up a whole nation-sized passel of ignoramuses in time for an election just months away? Though this theory seems like a (near literally) no-brainer -- I mean, come on, you'd have to be a moron not to see what Bush is doing, right?--I don't buy it. I know at least two otherwise intelligent people (at least, I think they're intelligent) whom I respect, who think the president is A-OK. If they exist, then there must be others who believe, for whatever unimaginable reason, that Bush is a decent human being and a capable leader (that's hard to even write). Finally--and maybe this is just my own personal denial—if it is true, then we're all doomed, and if we're all destined to go down in flames because of our fellow citizens' dimwittedness, what's the point of even caring or trying anymore?

Maybe it's genetic: Perhaps Bush backers were born with a heretofore unknown W chromosome, biologically predisposing them to vote for and vigorously defend the president; in fact, they may not even be aware of what they're doing! This makes sense, too, because it would mean that they would be able to disclaim any responsibility for their actions, a cherished gambit of the man they keep supporting. This theory merits more research, but in keeping with the tone of the day set by the administration in which all things scientific are to be disdained, I think I'll appoint someone with a strictly theological background to look into it and just move on...

It could just be that, at least when it comes to this country's foreign policy, vast numbers of Americans actually like the idea of blowing up thousands of innocent people with billions of dollars worth of shiny new weapons for the sole reason of securing corporate profits and worldwide American military domination. In the words of Judy Tenuta, "It could happen!" I first came across this idea a few months back on the Internet in a well-written piece by a gentleman whose name escapes me (sorry). It's an intriguing and disturbing take on why so many Bush/Cheney bumper stickers abound. It also fits in quite nicely with how so many of us, especially males, have been raised to view America: as a land of manifest destiny full of tireless self-starters who never say die and will kill you for your own good should you resist the gospel of democracy we benevolently try very hard to instill in your pathetic, savage breast. I think this mindset caries real currency with the truly manly men among us—you know, the owners of monster trucks and microbial appendages--but I don't think its adherents really number that many, and in my unscientific view (hey, maybe I could get a job with the Bush administration), it doesn't account for the core of Bush's support.

A widely held hypothesis for Bush's alleged popularity goes like this: Because mainstream journalism has failed to investigate numerous wrongdoings by the administration and acted more like a giggly cheerleader than the public's watchdog since 9/11, people simply don't have access to opposing views (i.e. the truth) and so end up thinking Bush serving as leader of the free world is actually a good thing. Once folks do get tuned in, they'll turn the president out. Well, no. Certainly, the traditional press has done a lousy job by failing to ask even simple questions like, "Uh, excuse me, Secretary Powell, did you draw those cartoons of the alleged mobile bioweapons labs yourself?" or "Pardon me, Mr. President, could we actually SEE the proof that Iraq is connected to 9/11?" It's not true, though, that factual information isn't and hasn't been available; it just requires a little effort to dig it out. Yes, if one reads only the Washington Times, there isn't much critical analysis from which to choose, but then again, who reads the Washington Times (other than maybe a few Moonies)? But with the Internet, unparalleled exposure to literally a world of news can be had with a few clicks. There's Al-Jazeera, for instance (the articles were a lot easier to read once I discovered its English-language website). Or the Guardian (written mostly in English), or so many others. On cable TV, who couldn't be a fan of C-SPAN, which actually IS the network that reports and then lets you decide? A lot of pertinent stories can even be found in good old daily newspapers (buried on page A18 usually, but still often there.) The problem isn't that the news isn't obtainable; it's that...

Humans, by nature, are lazy. And most Americans, when it comes to making an effort to inform themselves, are REALLY lazy. This is the main explanation for those head-scratching pro-Bush poll numbers. And the reason for the typical American's intellectual slothfulness is directly traceable to the way we've been raised, imbued with the notion practically from birth that the path to everlasting happiness is by purchasing more useless crap than we'll ever need. Big Business pretty much targets us the moment we're pulled from the womb; it's only a matter of time before some marketing whiz figures out how to run subliminal commercials via ultrasound. Throughout our lifetimes, ungodly sums of money are spent to bombard us with incessant messages to buy, buy, buy, and the less time we think about it, the better. It's cultural brainwashing, and boy does it ever work; as a result, millions of our fellow citizens have the attention spans of squirrels. (And if you've ever tried to teach a small, nervous rodent anything, you know just how challenging that can be.)

The American drug of (non) choice is consumerism, and it affects our entire pace of life. We wolf down fast food, run red lights, and get our "news" as fast as we can. And who presents the news the fastest? That's right, the right-wing talking heads. They have utterly mastered the technique of the wham-bam, we're-right-you're-wrong, ten-second rant. "Here's your view of the world, listener, now dial 1-800-BIG-DEBT to purchase from our trusted sponsor a dozen speed reading lessons you'll never use because, well, you don't read a damn thing!" Who's got time for newspapers, books, or magazines, anyway? Just a little brush with Rush is enough for so many folks to feel like they're really informed and to hear how much George Bush loves them, yes he does. Then—off to the mall! Life is too short for egghead activities like consulting varied sources and then making reasoned analyses; why, Wal-Mart's got a brand new riding mower on sale (never mind I don't have a lawn)!

So an unfathomable number of Americans, caught up in the all-consuming national pastime of chasing the Great God of Durable Goods, weirdly continue to view Bush in a positive light because they form their opinions of the man based solely on information gleaned from people like Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly. Unfortunately, this is akin to seeking advice on government transparency from Dick Cheney, or looking for spiritual enlightenment by reading "Mein Kampf"—it's just a really bad idea. There's another angle, too: There undoubtedly now exist many people in this country who, deep in their guts, know that Bush is a dangerous poseur, but can't bear to admit it because it's just too damn embarrassing and painful. It's not easy to say, "Yes, I bought all of that 'There could be a mushroom cloud over Buffalo any day unless we Americans heroically roll up our sleeves and get rid of Hussein' garbage; boy, was I duped!" It's even harder to acknowledge that thousands have died and the world has been made infinitely more unsafe because of unquestioning, jingoistic support for the president's insane, king-of-the-world fantasies.

So how can millions of Americans, ostrich-like in their approach to obtaining real news, be induced to raise their heads from the disinformational sands? It'll be tough: The desire to break an addiction must come from within, and the self-righteous high experienced by dittoheads and their kind appears to be quite heady. I mean, obviously there's some sort of appeal in spouting off in favor of oppressing the less-fortunate, killing thousands of people on a whim, dismantling social safety nets, helping the already wealthy transform themselves into bona fide aristocrats, eviscerating democracy via unscrupulous redistricting, and being just plain mean; I'm just not sure what it is, and I'm not a doctor (I don't even play one on TV). Millions of interventions to counter this ubiquitous condition don't seem practical. And in this day of political polarization (that Bush is some uniter, huh?), good old-fashioned logical persuasion doesn't seem like a solution, either. Apparently, we'll just have to continue speaking the truth loudly and often, and then hope and pray that self-enlightenment comes to enough folks between now and November to make a difference. I say: Remember Judy Tenuta! I also know from personal experience such epiphanies can happen: As hard as this is to admit, I was at one time a registered Republican (I think I was doing a lot of Oxycontin in those days.) There, I've said it; the biggest, boniest skeleton in my closet has now seen the light of day. So I know the switch can be made--without surgery even! Let's just hope it happens to enough Americans soon enough to prevent the special kind of hell that can only be produced by another four years of George Bush in the out-of-control driver's seat.