Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Americans “know” little, but “feel” a lot.

I’m amused every time I see a TV pundit display some poll result supposedly reflecting how Americans “feel” about certain current important matters. Why my amusement? Because most US citizens pay little attention to anything in the world other than what directly interests or affects them, such as the cost of gas, work or school, or pop culture items such as what happened at The MTV Awards (Tommy Lee and Kid Rock act “ghetto,” while Britney Spears flops).

Knowing the above, as far as I’m concerned, polls SHOULDN’T be all that important, except for perhaps as a gauge to show how uneducated, misled or purposely-ignorant most Americans are.

For instance, I saw some polls today taken before and after General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker gave their progress reports on Iraq. The poll stats were a joke, just as most polls are these days. I say that because I guarantee that if you ask folks on the street if they know the identities of those two gentlemen that only 1 or 2 out of 10 could answer correctly. Indeed, I maintain that most poll respondents know little about what they are being asked about.

Therefore, to administer poll questions with even a modicum of credibility, as part of the survey pollsters must first carefully inform the poll answerers what it is they are about to be questioned about. In the Petraeus/Crocker poll, poll givers must explain WHO the two gentlemen are, what they do, and where. Then, once carefully prepped (and probably skewed), the respondents are asked ridiculously loaded questions like “Do you believe Petraeus and Crocker are lying?” and “Are they just spouting party line?”

I despise polls, primarily because they are too easily manipulated. More important to me would be other data. For example, I’d like to know on what the respondents based their opinions, or more fittingly, their “feelings.” I’d like to ask if they have followed events in Iraq, and if so, through what medium? Do they know anyone over there? Are they familiar with the careers of the general or the ambassador? How much do they know about Iraqi culture and history? On what specifically do they base their positive or negative stances—is it their politics, stuff they read in blogs or saw on FOX or CNN? Or, is it just based on how the two men in question presented themselves?

President Clinton was the king of governing by poll—a personable and ostensibly smart fellow, in effect he was a will o’ the wisp commander in chief who conducted his entire presidency by survey. He made few presidential decisions according to his own compass, instead using the fickle finger of public opinion. He might as well have been governing by referendum, which in fact would reflect true democracy, although as such would be a miserable failure, but I digress.

Speaking of U.S. opinion polls—for quite some time now they have reflected a definite lack of national spirit and resolve for continued American involvement in Iraq. This nationwide angst against the war is probably mostly attributable to our well-known cultural impatience and need for immediate fulfillment, as well as from the continual bombardment of “bad” news from our politicized media. What these polls actually show is that Americans “know” little, but “feel” a lot.

What follows is a pretty good example of what I’m talking about.

Weeks ago, I met a nice young fellow from the San Francisco area. A 20-year-old, he emigrated from the Philippines when he was 10. We struck up a conversation pedaling side by side on stationary bikes in my gym. I heard him speak to one of his Filipino cousins with an American accent and asked him where he was from in the US.

Getting to know each other, we played the typical conversation game. We asked questions about each other’s background, which brought forth comments and more questions. My personal “way” is to never ask anything controversial about politics, war or religion, at least not until I know a “thing or two” about with whom I am conversing. However, in this case my new young friend was the one to open the debate box, and I dare say that for him it was a horrible thing.

By his third query he knew that I had spent many years in the military. Most people at that point will ask things like which service branch was I in, how long did I serve, and what job did I do, but not so this guy. Truthfully, I don’t think he knew enough about the armed forces to even begin to know what kind of questions to ask about it conversationally. Instead, he sighed and made a comment that “got me started.”

He said offhandedly, “It’s horrible what’s happening over in Iraq. I feel so bad for all the military people over there. They should all just be allowed to come home now.”

I looked at him sideways and smiled saying, “Can I ask you exactly what you think is happening over there that makes you say that our people should all come home immediately?”

“Ah, you know, bad things are happening. It’s not right. We shouldn’t be over there.”

“Okay, you DO know that everyone in the military is a volunteer, right? And you know that it’s been more than four years since we deployed to Iraq in 2003, correct? That means that hardly anyone in uniform today enlisted BEFORE the war started. Do you understand why that’s important?”

“Ahhh, no?” he answered, unsure of himself.

“Because the Americans over there doing the hard job of trying to help the Iraqis secure their country against terrorists and insurgents have all HAD the opportunity to quit. Many of them aren’t getting out; they are reenlisting. If you think about it, that should tell you something, right?”

“Like what?”

“Like maybe they believe that they are doing something that NEEDS to be done. May I ask, do you even KNOW anyone in the military?” I watched him carefully as he answered and knew from his facial expression and demeanor that deceit was coming.

“Ah…, …yeah.” He said haltingly with averted eyes, obviously lying. I let it go.

“Okay, lets say you do. Now what do you think would happen if we just up and left Iraq the way you want?”

“What do you mean? If our troops leave then the killing will stop. It only makes sense. All they are doing is just making more people into terrorists anyway. We never should have gone over there in the first place.”

“You just folded three different arguments into one there buddy. Let’s start from the top.”

Taking a breath I started, “I won’t argue with you on whether or not we should have invaded in the first place. You might not even remember why the president sent us in anyway, but I’ll just say that it wasn’t a problem UNTIL the insurgency turned it all sour. In case you didn’t know or don’t remember, but virtually every member of congress including most of the democrats voted to give Bush the go ahead before we attacked. So enough said on that. If you want to say, “Bush lied and people died” then that’s up to you. If he did lie, he damn sure was convincing.”

“I think it was for the oil man,” he tossed out nonchalantly.

I chortled, “You think so? I don’t think you’ve thought about that very much, because we could have gotten oil a lot easier and cheaper if we’d just continued to deal with Hussein. You know, just like the French and Germans did with the “oil for food program.” Remember that?”

Haltingly, he answered, “No, …not really…”

I continued, “O…kay, so much for that. So then, why do you think that the killing, as you say, will stop once we leave? Who is it that you think is DOING all the killing? Do you think its us?”

“Well, yeah. With all our bombing and attacks. Like that.”

“Let me school you up a little my friend,” I said good-humouredly. “Virtually ALL the killing is being done by the terrorists and insurgents, and now a lot of murder and mayhem is being done by Shia on Sunni and Sunni on Shia. You know what Kurds, Sunnis and Shia are, right?”

“Ahhhh, not really,” he said self-consciously.

“Well friend, I suggest you find out if you are planning on having an opinion on Iraq. You know?” I was having a hard time at that point hiding my condescension.

I continued, “Do you even know WHY we are there? You said something about oil and actually, you are mostly right. A huge chunk of the entire world’s oil supply comes from that part of the world. If we simply leave now, without ensuring stability, the whole region could go up in smoke.”

I asked him suddenly, “Do you have a car?”

“Yes, I do. …just bought it last year.”

“Cool, because if you want to be able to afford to put gas in it then I would think you would want us to make sure the Persian Gulf area stays secure. If we declare defeat and go without leaving an Iraqi government in place then you can kiss goodbye affordable gasoline. If Iran starts something and Hormuz closes, or if the pipelines close, then expect to pay 10 dollars per gallon my friend.”

He shrugged. I think he was getting a bit tired of not being able to answer my barrage of questions and assertions. Knowledge is a terrible thing when you DON’T have it. Too late now, he was ALL mine.

Turning my recumbent exercycle setting higher, I mopped my brow with my towel before going on, “Hey buddy, you said something about us MAKING more terrorists?”

“Yeah. All we are doing is pissing off a lot of people and making them hate us.”

“Okay, let me understand what you’re saying. You say if we weren’t there, then Al Qaeda would STOP hating us? So why do you think the 9-11 hijackers attacked us? At the time we weren’t even in Iraq or Afghanistan yet.”

“I don’t know. I guess because we support Israel. What they are doing to the Palestinians is terrible.”

“Oh man! I don’t want to get into the Palestinian thing, but I can tell you that Al Qaeda would still be trying to get rid of us even if Israel disappeared tomorrow. The Palestinian problem is a diversion my friend, just one bogus excuse among many. Al Qaeda wants to make the whole world into a Taliban state, like what they had in Afghanistan before we helped the Northern Alliance kick them out of power.”

I asked him if he knew anything about the Taliban and the atrocities they committed but once again he knew nothing of them. I sighed.

I finished up my one-sided debate with one more crack at trying to explain why we were in Iraq to this person who “felt” so much while “knowing” next to nothing. Keep in mind that at the time of this “debate” the surge had not yet kicked in and the Sunnis in Al Anbar and Diyala had not yet risen up against Al Qaeda with our help:

“One last thing man, and I’ll stop. Did you know that our presence isn’t so much making terrorists, as you claim, as attracting them. Bin Laden has already declared that the new war against America is IN Iraq. In other words, they are coming in from all over the jihadi world to try to defeat us there.

Now, the reason that’s good is because we are killing them as fast as they are coming. The bad thing is that out of evil desperate spite they are killing more Iraqis than they are blowing up Americans. But the fact that our sworn enemy, which Al Qaeda is, is there in Iraq is one of THE primary reasons we CANNOT go UNTIL we destroy them there, otherwise, we will have to go back and its going to be even harder the second time. So whatever we do, defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq HAS to happen first. Are you feeling me?”

I grinned over at him and apologized, “Sorry about that, but you have to admit you asked for it. Anyway, I can tell your heart is in the right place. You just need some insights that you’ve never been exposed to before.”

I reached over to him with my left hand and formed a fist. He hit it with his right fist and smiled saying, “Hey man, you’re a good guy. It was nice talking about ugly things without getting mad at each other. That’s always a good thing, you know?”

I nodded and had one last bit of fun at his expense as I kidded him, “You’re damned skippy dude, especially when I'M right!”

We both laughed.


Kevin said...

You have written two really good pieces smashed into one. "know vs feel" is epic, and could be a book.

Sorry to keep beating that horse. (inside story)

Your story with the little MTV dude is very telling, and an excellent teaching tool for educating the very people you speak of in "Know vs Feel". It's like a parable, (even though you are telling a true story)kinda the way parables were used in the bible to teach the uneducated masses.

This piece needs wider distribution than just this blog.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Thanks Kev! 'preciate that...

Amadeo said...

When you mentioned that your “new friend” was from the San Francisco area, I could almost visualize his looks because I regularly see a score of them on TV and sometimes when I walk the city downtown streets (in protests or street marches). A part of the problem is because a majority of FilAm families in SF are registered Democrats who have latched on to Democratic talking points. I have to admit that SF Democrats are quite adept at feeding the fires of narrow minority interests.

Thus, I foresee this as the trend in SF politics for quite a while because the continued provincial attitudes of the FilAms will continue to steer them toward this direction, in the eager hands of Democratic operatives.

KA said...

Hey phil, I was wondering if I could get your advice on something medical - it's the knee thing and the army thing. Can you shoot me an email to .

PhilippinesPhil said...

Amadeo, I think you're right about this guy. He appears to be a victim of that west coast SF counter culture. I hope I was able to let him see that there IS another side to the Iraq story other than the drivel he regurgitated.

Ed said...

Don't think I will touch the political half of this post because it is an old post and I'm still getting unburied on my blog readings.

I will say that I did like Clinton because he seemed more intune to ruling with the majority of the people unlike the current president. But what the majority of the people want is up for debate as you pointed out as polls can be skewed easily.

I have no problem with people who are extremely ignorant when it comes to politics and don't know who Petraeus is. However, I wish they would stay home come election day and let those of us who care enough to learn rule the country.