Monday, August 29, 2011

A Docile Democracy

In today's New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote a pretty interesting article on the willful ignorance of Republican presidential candidates. The following quote got me thinking:
So it’s now highly likely that the presidential candidate of one of our two major political parties will either be a man who believes what he wants to believe, even in the teeth of scientific evidence, or a man who pretends to believe whatever he thinks the party’s base wants him to believe.
Given our current political climate and what I've seen from Obama, I think it's safe to say that both parties will run a candidate who pretends to believe whatever will likely get him -- or her (God forbid) -- elected.

Americans are slaves to platitudes, and there is no greater lie than this: Americans want to hear the truth.

In the so-called "Malaise Speech," Carter told Americans the truth. We cannot continue down a road of unfettered consumption in which the efforts of many serve the desires of few. Basically, he gave the American people a needed ass chewing.

He called for shared sacrifice in uniting for the common good, particularly in dealing with the energy crisis. In order to combat American dependence on foreign oil -- a phrase that today is all to familiar -- he proposed investing in programs that would create 20% of American energy through solar power by 2000, protecting the environment and revitalizing the economy.

We're not even close to that goal, and Carter lost the election the following year for a lot of reasons. One is that he told the truth about Americans to Americans, which is political suicide.

So why do we fear the truth so much? Because we're lazy. The truth isn't always good. Sometimes we have to see our faults and correct them, but correction means change and change means effort. It's just easier to accept the status quo.

It's easier to say that the current health care system provides an acceptable level of care than it is to suggest a major overhaul that would deliver universal care.

It's easier to say that climate change isn't happening than it is to make drastic changes in our energy consumption habits.

It's easier to say that evolution is just a theory than it is to ask serious questions about our faith.

It's easier to say that government is the problem and must be limited than it is to say that government could be a solution if we only work to make it better.

Carter called this a crisis a confidence, Krugman calls it a stand against science, but at the heart it's really a problem of cowardice and complacency. We don't want to know the truth because the truth is that we're scared and docile, and until we understand that anything worth having is worth sacrificing for, we'll always be in a state of perpetual malaise.