Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anyone Surprised?

Americans have no idea what they're talking about when discussing the federal budget. Stop the presses.

If the media -- particularly that most-trusted network -- were doing their job instead of deliberately spreading lies, people would know better, and we'd be able to have meaningful conversations. It's what President Obama said to Bill O'Reilly, off of whom the words bounced as if they were balls in a cage. Teabaggerism will, as I've said many times, be the death of us.

I'm referring to a recent poll which shows how woeful is the general understanding of what we spend as a nation. Delusional data drives dumb decisions. Duh.

.... when it comes time to get specific, the cuts that Americans are by and large in agreement on don't add up to much. While they want Congress to drastically reduce spending overall, they overwhelmingly oppose doing so by scaling back some of the budget's biggest pieces.

Essentially, Americans want to have their budget cake and eat it too.

For instance, foreign aid is one of the only areas that most Americans are willing to squeeze for savings....

.... So how much money do Americans think could be slashed from international aid?

In a World Public Opinion poll conducted last November, respondents guessed, on average, that foreign aid spending represented 27% of the federal budget. To trim spending, the same respondents suggested that, on average, foreign should make up a slimmer 13% of the total budget, surely delivering massive savings.

The problem? Foreign aid is actually a minuscule 1% of the total budget. Even eliminating it altogether would do little to balance the budget or reduce the deficit...

.... When it comes to defense spending, Americans generally oppose cuts and wildly underestimating how much is already being spent.

In the previously-cited Gallup poll, nearly six in ten respondents opposed cutting defense spending. Meanwhile, a Rasmussen poll released last week found that 37% of Americans thought defense outlays were fine at their current levels, while 32% thought defense spending was too high, and 27% thought it was too low.

Yet the Rasmussen survey also asked this question:

To ensure its safety, should the United States always spend at least three times as much on defense as any other nation?

Only 25% of respondents agreed with that statement, compared to 40% who disagreed.

In reality, though, the U.S. spends more than that -- much, much more...

...In effect, that meant that the poll's participants contradicted themselves in the span of a few questions, both opposing cuts to defense spending, while also -- unknowingly -- saying the U.S. already spends too much on its military.

Simplistic and fact-free bloviations of the teabagger variety -- the idea that balancing the budget requires no more than eliminating PBS and aid to Israel, that it can be done without raising taxes -- go largely unchallenged by the legitimate media (and actively promoted by the illegitimate ones). And the result is an uninformed public, easily lied to and led into fantasy beliefs. It's no way to elect people willing and able to get things done.

I'm not suggesting that ignorance about government is entirely new. There was a time, however, when it didn't include -- to such a degree as now, anyway -- most of the legislators in one of the governing parties. We had Dirksens, and Javits', and Doles, Fords, Eisenhowers, and, yes, even Goldwaters to lend seriousness to the debate. There was a time, too, when we had Cronkites and Murrows and Huntleys and Brinkleys to produce actual information, on the basis of which it was possible to make thoughtful decisions. There were even -- you'll have to take my word for it -- voters interested in making that kind of decision.

The harder things get, the easier the imaginary solutions. The more vital it is to be informed, the less people want to be. The more we need the sort of press the founding fathers envisioned as central to the workings of a democracy, the more people instead turn to Fox "news," a blatant and unapologetic propaganda organ of the right wing, whose business model is actively to misinform....

.... Sorry. I've been told to lighten up. Completely out of context, then, but to honor the request, I'll end with a joke I used to tell at college parties:

At opposite ends of a town square were two Romanesque statues, a nearly-nude young man and beautiful young woman. For decades they graced the park as people enjoyed the peaceful place. One day an angel appeared and said to the statues, "For the joy you've brought you've been granted the gift of humanity: for one hour you'll be allowed to take human form." And so it was. The two stepped down from their pedestals, walked tentatively toward each other, feeling the warmth and passions of their bodies. Faster and faster they moved until they fell into each other's arms and disappeared into the bushes, from which, for the next forty-five minutes, was heard thrashing and grunting and moans of pleasure. Hand in hand, glowing and smiling, they emerged from the brush. The boy looked at the girl and said, "It seems we have a little time left. Do you want to do it again?"

"I'd love to," she said. "But this time you hold the pigeon and I'll shit on it."

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