Who lacks discernment now: How well do progressive intellectual leaders understand the political lay of the land?
We asked ourselves that question as we read Charles Blow’s column in yesterday’s New York Times.
Blow advanced a hugely conventional, almost hackneyed idea—we the people should keep ourselves well informed about foreign affairs. As Blow advanced that familiar old notion, we wondered how well he understands our nation’s political challenge.
After clearing his throat a bit, Blow cut to the chase. He cited a recent survey of the public’s views on foreign policy issues.
Americans were asked to state their views about an array of such issues. According to Blow, the answers to the survey were “thoroughly depressing.”
This is why:
BLOW (8/11/14): An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released last week asked Americans if they were satisfied with, dissatisfied with or didn’t know enough about how the United States was dealing with many of these topics, and the answers were thoroughly depressing.Forty-two percent of respondents said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion about Syria. To Blow, that response was “thoroughly depressing.” It suggests that too many of us the people aren’t “up to the task of discernment.”
On ISIS in Iraq, Syria, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and Israel and Hamas, at least 32 percent—and as high as 42 percent in the case of Syria—said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion. Of respondents who did have an opinion, those who were dissatisfied far outnumbered those who were satisfied, and most of the dissatisfied said their dissatisfaction was rooted in their belief that the United States wasn’t involved enough.
More Americans need to be more engaged, because these conflicts are complicated. There are no easy answers. Sometimes there will be no clear choices between good guys and bad guys but only choices among lesser demons. Sometimes conflicts are a swirl of history, ambition, grievance, vengeance and egos. Sometimes actors can only see righteousness in their wrong. Sometimes nobility and savagery coexist.
But if America, as the world’s last remaining superpower, is to faithfully play a role—if we must play that role—as a check against tyranny and terror in the world, its citizenry must be up to the task of discernment.
We were depressed by Blow’s depression! Reading the column, we were struck by how clueless he seems to be, about a basic point.
Can we talk? Very few people in this country know jack squat about the turmoil in Syria. We feel fairly certain of that because, in another recent survey, only 40 percent of respondents were able to name the parties which control the House and the Senate—and almost surely, some of those people simply guessed correctly.
We would guess that maybe a third of us the people really know who controls the two bodies.
Judging from Blow’s column, Blow seems to think that 58 percent of American adults actually are well informed about Syria. Blow’s complaint is a bit utopian. He thinks the number ought to be higher.
In reality, there is no chance that that many people are well informed about Syria, or that 68 percent are well informed about the situation in Ukraine. Blow doesn’t seem to understand this basic fact of American life.
Can progressives find ways to influence voters? To do so, we have to understand the position from which we all start.
Most people aren’t political journalists. They go to regular jobs each day. They don’t spend their hours perusing political information, the way Blow allegedly does.
We wouldn’t say Blow was playing with dolls in his column, but we’d say he came pretty darn close. We the people don’t know about Syria. Charles Blow doesn’t seem to know that.
Blow seems unfamiliar with us the people. Who isn’t “up to the task of discernment” now?
Tomorrow: Concerning that Dick Nixon doll