Friday, June 24, 2005

We Don' Need No Stinkin' Will of the People

by Rich Miles

June 24, 2005

From an article in the June 17, 2005 New York Times:

Nicolle Devenish, White House communications director, dismissed the significance of the poll, saying Mr. Bush believes that following polls is equivalent to a dog chasing its tail. "We have advanced a broad agenda, and will continue to advocate the people's priorities," she said.

Boy, if I only had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that one…

Quite literally, the sentiment in the above quote has been expressed by Bush or someone close to him dozens of times in the past 5 years. The poor, benighted mouthpiece Scott McClellan is the one who usually has to stand there in front of people who KNOW he’s lying and say it with a straight face, but Devenish, Dick Cheney, Ari Fleischer (remember him?) and Bush himself have said it numerous times in one way or another.

Bush and his handlers think that saying he doesn't pay any attention to such nonsense as polls makes him out to be a bold leader, who has an agenda, and who will not be swayed by momentary distractions – potentially good qualities in a leader, if indeed he really has such qualities.

But let’s parse the above statement and others like them a bit – what is really being said here when Bush or his minions claim not to pay attention to polls?

Consider: a poll is a statistical sample of the opinions of larger numbers of people. The larger the sample, the more accurate it is. If we could ask the opinion of every single person in the country, we could approach 100% accuracy. But that’s not practical, so folks who study the dark mathematical art of statistical analysis are able to crunch numbers, and determine that, within a range of accuracy called a “margin of error”, asking the opinions of 1000 or so people can give us a reasonable picture of what the other 300 million of us are thinking. There are other considerations – trying not to ask the same people every time you do a poll, trying to formulate questions that don't insert bias into the potential answers, etc. – but generally speaking, it’s demonstrable that, if you ask 1000 more or less random people a set of questions, you'll get a good idea what the entire population thinks on those topics, within that margin of error.

So – when Bush et al. say that they don't pay any attention to polls, what they're really saying is, they're not paying attention to what the American people want. The underlying implication is that what the people think isn't important because they don't know as much as I do, so I will proceed with my agenda despite their poll-expressed opposition, and when all is said and done, and the smoke clears, they'll see that I was right and they were wrong. No politician in his right mind (which on some days includes Bush) would ever actually come out and say this directly, but it’s hard to interpret the message any other way – I know best, so if you disagree with me, I'm going to ignore you and do it my own way.

(A pleasant side benefit of this examination of the Bush administration's modus operandi is that statements like Ms. Devenish's turn out to be outright lies - the people's priorities? I don't think so...)

Most people, or at least most adults, know better than this. Every married man in the country knows how far that kind of behavior will go in promoting domestic bliss, and most husbands wouldn't put up with it in the other direction either. So if we don't take being condescended to and ignored, patted on the head and told not to worry our pretty little heads about it because “we know what’s best for you” from people we know, why should we have to endure it from a man who was hired for his job by only 50.7% of the country, a fair number of whom wish they could have a do-over on their vote even this soon after the election?

Even in our cynical, “trust no one” era, we (and they) must remember, politicians are elected to represent and serve the people who put them in office. Those who forget this very basic fact find themselves out of a job sooner than they had expected. By hiding his real intentions from a slim majority of the people (who could EVER have imagined the SocSec barnstorming tour, now in the 4th month of its 2-month stated duration?), Bush has managed to be re-elected for a final term, and it’s not hard to imagine that he is so completely self-absorbed that he believes he can't be hurt politically as a result. (He clearly has NO concern for others who may be harmed by his actions).

So if our elected representatives, from the White House down to town council, won't do what they should, and won't listen to us when we tell them what is really important to us, what can we do? In Bush’s case impeachment is possible, but frankly I don't think there’s the political courage anywhere in the country to bring up the topic in a way that might actually make it stick. But hey, as Judy Tenuta used to say, it could happen.

There’s only one hope, in my opinion: an anti-incumbency movement. Just vote all the rascals out, even the very few good ones - cast every single vote for every single office for whoever is not currently in power. For the ones who are going to quit, or are up against term limits, vote for the other party, whichever one that is. Show them that we hired them, and by golly we can fire them too. Get a whole new crew of rookies in these offices who are scared for their jobs, and start over from scratch. Things will be rough for a while, as they all look for the toilets and the Senate dining room and how to get to K Street, and what do those pretty little buttons on my desk do…but eventually, we can have a political class that listens to their bosses – US!

As Judy Tenuta and I say, it could happen…don't hold your breath, though. In the meantime, watch Bush’s poll numbers continue to dive – after all, he’s not watching them….