Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

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A Gullible World

March 27, 2012

We are gullible, humans, I mean.  We believe things we hear though presented with absolutely no evidence to back it up.   Oh, some of us have grown cynical from the experience of years and do question, but in the end, even the most cynical amongst us has a seemingly pathological need to believe what we are told.  Especially if that something supports a position we favor.

It is understandable; the way we learn lends itself to it.  As infants we absorb all we are exposed to without question.  As toddlers, magical thinking rules our thoughts.  In grade school, teachers take on the almost divine quality of being wellsprings of truth and wisdom.  By that time we gain our footing and form our own precocious thoughts, seriously questioning what we are told seems to be an alien concept.  Our societal norms also lend to the process, did your mother ever tell you to “respect your elders” or something like that, when all you did was ask a question?

We break free from this sort of restriction in our teenage years but only to a point.  Having a stopping point is a good thing too, as society would not function if we did not have some level of civility and trust.  In a sense, we collect people we trust and accept with little or no question what they tell us.  The further they are from that central trust, the more we hold suspect what they say.  This sort of acceptance works for the benefit of the circle (society) but against the interests of the individual.

As we grow, we develop a system of tiered trust.  Trust is broken into a series of circles; each with its own level in a sort of hierarchical index with the most trusted, and smallest, circle closest to us and expand from there.  For example, you may trust your family the most, then your friends, then your work colleagues, then your acquaintances, and so on.    The problem with this approach is once in a circle you have that trust level; even at times it may not deserve it.  For example, you trust your dad.  He has been a rock you have counted on your whole life.  It seems you can ask him anything.  If he happens to be a plumber, it is safe to assume he knows much about it.  What if you have an electrical question, he may or may not be so good a source.  You need to challenge what he tells you in that case.  Not to doubt him, but to ensure you have the right information.  Often the level of trust we give a person allows them to influence us beyond their expertise.

When we take our nature into account, it is easy to see how we, as a society, go off the rails from time to time.  For not only do we unilaterally trust members of our various circles, in many cases we grant members the ability to include others we do not even know into that circle.  Back to the dad example, if our father trusts someone, we are likely to trust them too.  This is where our gullibility comes into play.  You father may know to trust someone only on one or two issues, if that is not made clear to you, you may end up trusting them in ways your father never would.

This sort of associated trust really comes into play in our larger circles. While everyone is different, we do tend to fall into similar groupings.  Politically, most people are either conservative or liberal.  We grant to people within our group trust they have not earned.  This leads us to accept as true views that support our preconceived notions.  It limits our input to only things that support our conclusions and can lead to very bad results.

In 2003, this type of thinking allowed Americans to rigidly draw a circle around ourselves and march off to an unnecessary war.  To be a “good American” you had to be patriotic, and to be patriotic you had to support the government without question.   The result of such thinking speaks for itself.   Another example happened in 2008 with the election of President Obama.  Conservatives painted him as a communist in the vein of Stalin working to deliver the United States to Satan, while liberals saw his as the reincarnation of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy combined, marching us towards utopia.  Neither side looked at Barrack Obama the man.  Neither side understands today Barrack Obama the President.  Conservative circles prevent seeing him as the centrist he is and go off on tangents, like chasing his birth certificate.  Liberals are no better as they see him as the harbinger of radical change which also prevents seeing him as a centrist.

For instance, on the issue of gun control, always a hot-button topic for both conservative and liberals, President Obama has liberalized federal laws for carrying concealed weapons in National Parks.  Still, conservatives whip up fear that “he is coming for your guns!”  Liberals, on the other hand, do not see President Obama is not with them on the issue of gun control, he has taken a centrist position.  Yet, neither side can see the truth, as they only take input from within their particular circle.

The point is this, if you belong to a circle or group or anything that does not allow you to question as a condition to belong, you need to ask yourself if you should belong.  For Republicans, it is not enough to be Republican, you have to prove it.  They even have a term for those members not Republican enough, RINO – Republican In Name Only.

So there it is, we are gullible.  We are predisposed to it.  Yet, that does not mean we must accept it.  Both scientist and engineers are taught to be critical thinkers, to question everything.   This is a throwback to the liberal education President Wilson spoke of one-hundred years ago when he addressed the Phi Beta Kappa Chapter at Cambridge[i] with his Spirit of Learning speech.   Liberal education is not in the political sense of the word liberal but rather in the free exchange of ideas and a way of thinking that pulls in opposing opinion to arrive at a larger truth.  It is the means by which truly meaningful opinions are formed.   It is how we take input without the need for rigid circles that stand between us and truth, between us and understanding.


[i] ‘The Spirit of Learning’, in Woodrow Wilson, College and State: Educational, Literary and Political Papers (1875–1913), ed. Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd (New York and London, 1925), vol. 2.

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The Danger of Unknowns

August 19, 2010

We live in a time when the best choices a particular politician made in years past are used as a club against him or her today, when times and situations call for different choices.  It really does not matter if a politician is liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, or any other flavor of alignment, votes and positions of yesterday haunt them today.

Imagine if such attacks happened around our Founding Fathers.  George Washington would never have been elected as president, he lost more battles than he won and seemed to always be retreating.  John Adams, president # 2, forget it, he represented the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, resulting in the acquittal of most and only two soldiers guilty of manslaughter and not murder.  As for Thomas Jefferson, he was a deist who was critical of organized religion, a death knell for a politician today.

Politics has never been a business for the thin-skinned, but what takes place today goes beyond simply pointing out ideological differences and extends to character assassination.  Every vote or position becomes a vulnerability for any politician with a few years of experience.  Moreover, it encourages the creation of proposed bills and legislation designed to force opponents in voting for or against something solely for use later as ammunition against them.

The ultimate result is electing individuals without a record or history.  While this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, it does open the door to placing people in positions they are not fully ready to hold.  For example, after the corruption surrounding the Nixon administration, the country turned to a little known governor from Georgia, Jimmy Carter.  The country wanted an honest man, and President Carter is that.  His inexperience in dealing with national politics made his time in office difficult and prevented him from achieving much he tried.  America’s experiment with national political newcomers ended with the election of Ronald Reagan.

Following eight years with President Reagan, again voters elected the better-known candidate in then Vice-President Bush.  During his term, the national economic situation turned and a modest tax increase was deemed necessary for the good of the nation.  The Republican right-wing threw a fit, as Bush campaigned on no new taxes.  Not even the good of the nation is enough to overcome past statements and political parties will throw their own candidate under a bus to make that point.

After that, the nation elected another relatively unknown southern governor, Bill Clinton.  Unlike Carter, President Clinton understood the nature of national politics.  More importantly, he understood the nature of Washington politics.  Through his political savvy, his lapses in judgment regarding his personal affairs did not derail his presidency; in fact, the nation ended up in a stronger position than when he took the helm.  Clinton is an example showing an unknown can get the job done, but leaves the question of should we take the risk.

The conservatives picked up the mantra of electing an unknown in George W. Bush; you know “dub-ya.”  Unlike President Carter, this Bush played to his base.  In fact, in playing to his base, he did little else.  After 9/11, instead of finding the bastard that attacked us, he started two wars he was not willing to finish.  After eight years under his control, he left the United States with a wrecked economy, homeowners loosing homes in record numbers, the military stretched to its breaking point, fewer American’s with the ability to afford healthcare, and our returning veterans left to suffer all sorts of physical and mental problems overwhelming the Veteran’s Administration.

The nation blamed the conservatives.  While President Bush certainly is conservative, that was not the problem, he was simply the wrong man to run the country.  We elected, twice, a guy not fit to run a lemonade stand and left the competent conservative leaders marginalized.  The tide-swell of voter frustration was not to be turned; rather than accepting blame for electing an unknown moron, voters looked to liberals and picked another unknown, President Obama.

While certainly competent and far from being a moron, President Obama’s inexperience in national politics is proving to be an Achilles’ heel.  Much like President Carter, Obama seems incapable of controlling the political party he sits atop.  They are fractured, disorganized, and impotent when it comes to passing meaningful legislation.  Of course, they blame the Republicans but in doing so simply show they’ve been out foxed, or as some might say out “FOXed,” à la Rupert Murdock.

Back in my military days, I went through some very interesting training.  In one course on intelligence matters, the instructor made a statement like “In geopolitical affairs, always side with the despot you know and understand rather than the despot you know nothing about.”  That is good advice for our national politics too.  While we may not like the good-ol’ boys of either political party, we at least have a sense of who they are.  We, voters of both political parties, need to stop electing people we know nothing about.

Does that mean only elect career politicians, no, it means we must elect people with a record of action that points to how they will lead.  For instance, if you never worked in politics and your only experience with financial matters is balancing a checkbook, you might not have the qualifications to lead the nation in a financial crisis.  Warren Buffett, on the other hand, has the same political experience, but carries a financial pedigree that proves his ability.

As the mid-term elections approach, we need to stop firing the despot we know for the one that we know nothing about.  We can really make matters worse.  Politics in the United States has devolved to the point truly smart people avoid it like the plague.  The partisan bickering and backstabbing must end.  We need people who are willing to engage each other to solve problems rather than stand on ideology.  Firing an individual because he or she is not conservative or liberal enough and replacing them with some ideological robot without properly understanding who they are is a dangerous way to run a country.

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The Mountain, the Radio Station and the Radio

August 16, 2010

Once upon a time their was a radio station.  It was on one side of a mountain and the small town they wished to reach was on the other.  Try as they might, the interference from the mountain seemed too much for the little station to over come.

One day at a marketing meeting, the sales manager complained, “If only those people had their receivers where we could reach them, our sales would increase.”  What the manager failed to understand it is not the responsibility of the radio to receive the signal of the radio station.  In other words, it is the responsibility of the transmitter to remove the interference between it and the receiver.  The station needed to work around the mountain, not the town.  This is the same problem President Obama and the Democrats are failing to deal with.

Currently, our daily intake of news from blogs, broadcasts and, even newspapers are full of negative reports on everything from the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster to the continued lethargic economic recovery.  If Democrats are responding with positive news, like the radio station, the mountain of interference prevents their message from getting through.

For instance, the bailout of General Motors (GM) and Chrysler.  At over $50 billion, it was easy to stand against it, unless you happen to be in the auto industry of course. For the record, I was against it.  Most of that money went to purchase stock and in GM’s case, about $6 billion was an outright loan.  That loan has been paid back (albeit from other government money) and the company just reported it’s second quarter of profits clearing the way for the public sale of stock after its chapter 11 bankruptcy filing; something they must accomplish to buy back the stock the government purchased.  This is good news for tax payers.  It is the only way we will ever see any of the money come back and there is even the possibility for a modest profit.

Why then are we not hearing this from the administration?  It seems they act much like the sales manager by complaining the public is not doing more to get their message, ignoring that it is their responsibility in the first place.  The administration may feel they are communication but the public does not feel the same and in the end, it is public’s opinion that matters.  The din of negative news make a formidable obstacle to say the least but that makes it more important and urgent to hear the administration, and Democratic leadership on action they undertook that is working.  Otherwise, we are left with just the negative.  Is it any wonder President Obama’s approval ratings are low?

Some complain the Republicans are just highlighting the negative to score political points.  That may be, but should we expect them to do otherwise?  It is the job of Democrats to highlight their accomplishments; this is where they really fail.  Of course, President Obama will know he fought the good fight as he packs up and leaves the Whitehouse wondering why the public did not do more to understand what all he accomplished.

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