Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

26 February 2008

Gossip and Policy

We are all being tested.

It is now six years and five months since 9/11. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still alive, well, and plotting against us.

Next week will mark two years, six months since Katrina. Tens of thousands of displaced people still live in trailers, many being poisoned by formaldehyde. The levees around New Orleans are no higher than they were before the flood. Six months after the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, we have no national commitment to repair our decrepit infrastructure.

It is now ten years, two months since the Kyoto Protocol and seven years since the first Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change. We have done virtually nothing to address the growing problem of global warming, except adopt weak gas-mileage standards for oil-fueled vehicles in the face of an increasing scarcity of oil.

We used to be a “can-do” people. These facts reveal a nation in decline.

Is there a great national dialogue on these themes? In a word, no.

In the most important election in forty years, we gossip. We obsess constantly over whether our next president will have African genes, posses two X chromosomes, or be over 70. We scrutinize minutiae of campaign tactics. We worry for days over rumors that our Republican candidate might have had a “relationship” with an attractive female lobbyist. We study pictures of Barack Obama, taken years ago, in native Somali garb. These things, we are told, are news.

We are in our present predicament because selling gossip as policy worked for Bush and Rove. Rove taught us that homosexual marriage, abortion and the Ten Commandments’ absence on courthouse lawns were vital national issues. And look what a mess we are in!

Several unusual events are increasingly likely in the next ten years. A homosexual couple might move into your neighborhood. Your president might have African ancestors. Your neighborhood gas station might run out of gas, perhaps for considerable periods. The bridge you are driving on might collapse. The plane you are flying in might collide with another for lack of a modern air traffic control system. Or an Al Qaeda nuke might take out Washington or New York.

Which of these possibilities interests you most? The answer depends on whether you prefer gossip to policy.

Are our venerable media helping us make the distinction? In a word, no. They are busy selling gossip as news.

One of the most remarkable things I have seen in our media recently was a lead editorial that the New York Times ran nine days ago. Entitled “Questions, Not Just on Iraq,” it posed a series of penetrating and seldom-heard questions about foreign policy. The answers to those questions ultimately may determine whether we have to go to war again, or whether we will face terrorist nukes in our own cities.

The questions were important. They needed asking. But why, I wondered, did the Times ask them of us, the public? Shouldn’t it be asking them of our candidates for president and our current policy makers? Are we all reporters?

I would love to see answers to those questions. But you won’t get them from the Times or the mainstream media. If you want them, you’ll have to pull the raw data off the Internet, with the help of Google or another search engine. Then you’ll have to do your own analysis. Our youth already have discovered this fact; they don’t pay much attention to the mainstream media.

Meanwhile, the rest of us regale ourselves with pictures of Obama in native dress, charges of plagiarism, and rumors of John McCain’s romantic relationship spawned by unnamed sources. We all gossip while Rome burns. (Hillary seems strangely immune from gossip, perhaps because she’s already been the butt of gossip over the most spectacular sex scandal in our history.)

Yes, we are being tested all right. This election will test whether we, the people, can tell the difference between gossip and policy.

Which candidate promotes gossip, and which is serious about policy? Can we discover and compare policy differences ourselves, with the help of the Internet?

Our future depends upon answers to these questions and questions of policy. But don’t look to our media for answers. You won’t find them there. Instead, you’ll find all the gossip you can absorb.


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