The Lonely Centrist

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Coming Apart at the Seams

I keep seeing polls in which substantial majorities of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. How can this be? It really can't be the economy, although some people undoubtedly underestimate its performance. But it is doing well. It seems to me that all perspective has been lost on a host of issues. The Patriot Act is denounced as if it were the Nuremburg laws updated. In fact, what is done under the Patriot Act seems to be nothing compared to the actions taken in most every other war in which the U.S. has been engaged, not least of which WWII. If the war in Iraq seems not to be going well, it is nonetheless true that casualties are a fraction of those in Vietnam or other wars; and there have been no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Of course, I suspect that "wrong track" means many different things to different people. To some, it probably means increasing acceptance of gays in American life, and even more, gay marriage. It may mean too many abortions. It may mean a culture of celebrity and sex, or too much growth in the size of government and unconstrained federal spending, or a failure to consider serious entitlement reform. Yet the probable beneficiaries of this "wrong track" belief, if the polls are correct (and I believe they are), are liberal democrats who favor gay rights, including gay marriage, abortion rights, a vague association with Hollywood, and more federal spending. To others, of course, "wrong track" means too much religion seeping into political life; failure to adequately fund needed government programs; and government intrusions on civil liberties, and these people will, more logically, vote Democratic in November.

I don't know the answer to these questions, or who is right or wrong on such issues, although I have my opinions. But here is where I think the country is on the "wrong track." According to one poll, one-third of Americans believe that the American government was behind the September 11 attacks. In other poll, forty-two percent of Americans believe gas prics are falling because George Bush is manipulating them. Meanwhile, our political leadership is going nuts of the story of a perverted congressman and his emails to congressional pages, while, as the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger points out, the Stalinist hermit kingdom of North Korean prepares to conduct an underground nuclear test, and Europe throws in the towel on Iran's nuclear agenda, as Iran's political leader tells a mob screaming "Death to America" that nothing will stop Iran from enriching uranium. From the other side of the political spectrum, Peter Beinart of The New Republic points out that it seems to be a common belief on the farther reaches of the political left that President Bush and the Pope were engaged in a calculated conspiracy when the latter made his comments quoting Emperor Manuel II on the deficiencies of violence as a tool of religious conversion, and that this anti-Bush paranoia is preventing our nation from seriously defending freedom of speech.

These beliefs in 9/11 and gas price and papal conspiracies, and the fascination with a congressional sex scandal, are not the signs of a serious nation. If America is on the "wrong track," I think it is probably in our inability to debate issues seriously, or even to figure out which are the serious issues.

I don't know how to see this well, insanity, resolved. Perhaps a hopeful sign is to see columns such as Henninger's and Beinart's, suggesting that maybe the adults will try to regain control of the debate (although Beinart can't help himself from using the same column to excoriate Bush).

Perhaps the fall elections will pop the boil, but I am not optimistic.

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