Supplemental: Charles Blow’s complaint about us, the people!


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.

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.
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.”

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


  1. Some leaders understand the limits of the public's knowledge. That is why Hillary Clinton took steps earlier this year to remind us how she and bill were broke when they left the White House, lest we hold it against them that they are in the top 1% now.

  2. OMB (Poll Taking Time with the OTB)

    We wonder whose name would be recognized by fewer people, blogger Bob Somerby or progressive intellectual leader Charles Blow?

    Perhaps we should ask: Which statement comes closer to your view;

    Blogger Bob Somerby's statement that "We, the people are dumb. Very few people in this country know jack squat about the turmoil in Syria."

    or Progressive intellectual leader Charls Blow's statement "Whatever our politics, we must at least make an effort to know enough about the issues to take a position."

    Yessiree real progressives. Your BOB knows how to talk turkey to the masses, turning them from rubes squatting in the squadoosh suburbs to happy parents and grandparents proud of the progress black kids are making by rough rules of thumb and excited that, when you kick the scores of the kids 'o color out, our American kids kick Polish butt on international tests.

    1. You know, Uncle Drum had a good answer to Somerby last year when Bob did one of his famous, "You'll never hear (name your pundit) talk about this issue" posts that named Drum as one of the offenders.

      Drum answered that no one source covers everything, and particularly Somerby himself. He even backed that up by noting he had written extensively about an issue Drum found important that Somerby had yet to add his dos centavos to.

      That's why it's a good idea to read more than one source.

      As for Syria, well that should draw guffaws around these parts, shouldn't it? After all, what has been Somerby's contribution to the public's knowledge of Syria? Yes, yes, I know Bobfans. He is a self-proclaimed "media critic." But couldn't he criticize the media long before now about their perceived lack of coverage?

      And yes, yes, I know it's his blog, and he gets to choose his subject matter -- even if it's yet another pleasing tale told to his own rubes about how much smarter they are than all those other people who answer surveys revealing that they don't know squat.

      Tsk, tsk, tsk, Bob fans will say as the circle the camp fire listening to yet another story about how awful the rest of the world is. If only everybody else were as clued in as they were.

    2. The media hasn't been covering Syria? What world do you live in?

    3. Exactly the point. The media HAS been covering Syria. And the Ukraine. And ISIS. It's Bob who wants to pretend that such coverage is non-existent because he can't find it in his Washington Post, his New York Times, or his MSNBC even though it's right there.

      It's a pleasing tale to tell his rubes who probably don't know a damned thing about Syria either. Don't blame your own laziness. Blame the media.

    4. I think it is fair to blame Maddow for spending 1/3 of her show talking about slow executions instead of providing background on who ISIS is and showing people where Syria is on a map. Yes, people can look it up but they don't and it is in everyone's self-interest to have a more informed electorate.

    5. So how much better informed would our electorate be if Maddow chose to spend those 71 minutes on Syria and ISIS?

      We can play this game all day. For instance, Bob was tiptoeing through the tulips of Tuscaloosa when ISIS and Syria and Gaza were festering.

      But you can go ahead and consider capital punishment and botched executions not worth the 71 minutes Maddow devoted to it, Please excuse me if I disagree, not that it matters to you. After all, your opinion of what's important should be the only thing that matters.

      Meanwhile, ISIS and Syria and Gaza and Ukraine are all over the news these days. It's not a matter of "looking it up" But if you truly wanted to be fully informed, you'd do that too with all the technological marvels at our fingertips.

      But then again, your guru has spoken. They are not being covered at all because Rachel Maddow has chosen to devote 71 minutes to something else.

  3. Seems like an odd complaint. Blow says that the issue is complicated, then he complains when people say they don't know enough about it. Would he rather have ignorant people thinking they DID know enough about it?

    Then the point about "we should know enough to take a position". Why is that? If I take a position is that going to matter one way or another? Sure, okay, let me devote a few hours of my life (how many, since it is complicated? Do I need to read several heavy tomes about the history of Syria?) to studying Syria. Now I am totally informed. Now what? Is Kerry gonna call me up and seek my advice? Not very damned likely. Maybe my congressperson will?

    Ha ha ha. I already know far more than my Congressperson does about Federal taxes and I spend my money to share than online - my Congressperson doesn't pay any attention to that at all. She's too busy spreading her own misinformation.

    Finally, if he thinks people should be informed, perhaps he, himself, could write a column or two where we the people could GET informed by reading it? Perhaps Charles Blow could light a candle instead of just cursing the darkness?

  4. Just as Benghazi was used to attack Hillary Clinton by the right, this latest ISIS uprising in Iraq is being used to attack Clinton by the left. Those who wish to preempt her decision to run for president are now portraying her as Hawkish over innocuous, general remarks about whether the ISIS problem could have been mitigated by taking a different approach in the past. Never mind that Clinton has served for four years demonstrably maintaining relative peace and quiet in the world. Never mind that things seem to have blown up under Kerry's supervision, without her influence. Never mind that it is Obama escalating involvement in Iraq, not Clinton. Joseph Cannon seems to have concocted a theory about Clinton's hawkishness that exceeds even the Benghazi ranting on the right. Some have even suggested that the problems in the Middle East are all Hillary's fault, by convoluted reasoning every bit as manufactured as outrage over Benghazi.

    This is swiftboating, as much as Kerry was swiftboated. Because Clinton's signal achievement of her four years as Secretary of State was to keep us out of war and to promote peace in the world. Just compare her tenure with Kerry's to see how good a job she did of that! This is an attack on her strength using a manufactured image of her as a war-monger. She cannot effectively combat this because if she emphasizes her desire for peace she will be perceived as too weak to be a decisive president capable of protecting us from enemies. If she emphasizes her strength, she will be perceived as Hawkish. There is no way for her to win this deliberately manufactured situation that IS an attack on her presidential aspirations. Shame on any of you liberals who aid in this.

    Crazy time on the left because heaven forbid a woman should ever attain high office in the USA.

    1. "Just compare her tenure with Kerry's to see how good a job she did of that!"

      Yes, indeed. Putin dared not even attempt to annex Crimea as long as Hillary was in charge of State. So too with ISIS. They kept themselves under the radar until Hillary left and the feeble Kerry took over. Same with Israel and Gaza. Better keep a lid on that one until Hillary hits the lecture circuit.

      Good lordy, what fairy tales we tell ourselves.

    2. What do you propose as a measure? Frequent flyer miles?

    3. So now we understand who's behind the attacks on Hillary. It's Kerry.

  5. you forgive that Hillary Clinton carry out the foreign policies of the Obama administration.

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