So yesterday’s column was abusively long — I apologize! — and my early Nielsen research shows that only 2% of you managed to make it to the end:
Misinformation is a dangerous thing. If people are told often enough that the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change is a conspiracy — by, for example, the new Republican Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future — some are going to believe it. If people are told often enough the President is not a citizen or that Iraq had a hand in attacking us on 9/11 or that (based on intelligence from a guy code-named Curveball whom U.S. intelligence never even interviewed) invading Iraq was absolutely necessary — some are going to believe it. If people are told often enough that America is the great Satan or that they will be met by 72 virgins if they kill innocent people or that they are the Master Race or that masturbation causes blindness or that Obamacare is bad — but that kynect, which is Obamacare, is good — or that election day is Wednesday — some are going to believe it.
And when Mitch McConnell — who set as his first priority preventing Obama’s reelection — tells people, in prepared, considered remarks that, “By any standard, Barack Obama has been a disaster for our country” – some people, like Steven, are going to believe it.
For all his obvious intelligence and good intentions, which I truly don’t question, Steven — for now, at least — is an idiot.
Today, just a quick follow-up:
Pamela W. in Texas: “The Stevens of the country really frighten me. I applaud your persistence and continued dialog (?) but wonder if it’s a waste of time. I believe there is something deeper going on with these folks, like religious beliefs. And there’s no getting around that.”
Dave Burgess: “Stop trying to change Steven. It can’t be done. Focus your efforts on those who can be reasoned with. His head is in the tar sands and will remain there the rest of his life.”
☞ I hear you (and do recognize that calling someone an idiot — even if respectfully — is not necessarily the best way to wedge his mind open to your point of view) but I don’t believe it’s hopeless. People evolve. People grow. Every once in a while I get an email from a reader who says, in effect, “OK, you’ve worn me down.” I live for those emails.
Jonathan Chait, argung in this week’s New York Magazine that history will laud President Obama:
He has amassed a record of policy accomplishment far deeper than even many of his supporters give him credit for. He has also survived a dismal, and frequently terrifying, 72 months when at every moment, to go by the day-to-day media, a crisis has threatened to rock his presidency to its core. The episodes have been all-consuming: the BP oil spill, swine flu, the Christmas underwear bomber, the IRS scandal, the healthcare.org launch, the border crisis, Benghazi. Depending on how you count, upwards of 19 events have been described as “Obama’s Katrina.”
Obama’s response to these crises—or, you could say, his method of leadership—has been surprisingly consistent. He has a legendarily, almost fanatically placid temperament. He has now spent eight years, counting from the start of his first presidential campaign, keeping his head while others were losing theirs, and avoiding rhetorical overreach at the risk of underreach. A few months ago, the crisis was the Ebola outbreak, and Obama faced a familiar criticism: He had botched the putatively crucial “performative” aspects of his job. “Six years in,” BusinessWeek reported, “it’s clear that Obama’s presidency is largely about adhering to intellectual rigor—regardless of the public’s emotional needs.”
By year’s end, the death count of those who contracted Ebola in the United States was zero, and the panic appears as unlikely to define Obama’s presidency as most of the other crises that have come and gone. But there have been other times when Obama’s uninterest in engaging in the more public aspects of his job—communicating his reasoning and vision, soothing our anxieties with lofty rhetoric, infusing his administration with the sense of purpose that electrified his supporters during the 2008 campaign—has clearly harmed him. “If there’s one thing that I regret this year,” he admitted in 2010, “it is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are.”
The president’s infuriating serenity, his inclination to play Spock even when the country wants a Captain Kirk, makes him an unusual kind of leader. But it is obvious why Obama behaves this way: He is very confident in his idea of how history works and how, once the dust settles, he will be judged. For Obama, the long run has been a source of comfort from the outset. He has quoted King’s dictum about the arc of the moral universe eventually bending toward justice, and he has said that “at the end of the day, we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.” To his critics, Obama is unable to attend to the theatrical duties of his office because he lacks a bedrock emotional connection with America. It seems more likely that he is simply unwilling to: that he is conducting his presidency on the assumption that his place in historical memory will be defined by a tabulation of his successes minus his failures. And that tomorrow’s historians will be more rational and forgiving than today’s political commentators. . . .
If you’re like me, you’ll want to click here for the rest. It’s a must-read.
Quote of the Day
History is a vast early warning system.~Norman Cousins
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