Friday, August 1, 2008

A case of rising expectations not being met

An opinion piece by NPR's Dick Meyer is a real downer (if you are an uncritical reader). Full article here

He argues that American's confidence in everything public is about as low as it can go. He isn't so bold as to suggest a legitimacy crisis, which, in fact, would be a crisis, but nevertheless, in the "negative" industry, this one is well worth it. A couple of excerpts:

At the beginning of the summer of 2008, three and a half decades after the Watergate hearings, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll came out. It found that 82 percent of those polled believed the country was seriously on the wrong track. They were the gloomiest results in 15 years. But they are not out of whack with the basic trends of public attitudes since the 1960s.

Hmm, worst in 15 years...15 years ago was 1993. The beginning of the Clinton Presidency, which followed 12 years of Republican/Conservative rule, which was a constant undermining of everything public....the market, the market, private, private...the schools are bad, religion is good, social security bad, money markets good.....

More from Meyer:

It isn't just government that Americans have grown to disrespect. Major companies had the confidence of 55 percent of those polled in 1966, but just 16 percent in 2007. Organized religion fell from 41 to 27 percent.

Meyer points out much social and material progress and that social scientists say we are not as "happy" as we once were.

He points to both liberals and conservatives crossing their fingers at the "toxic" pop culture (even as it makes more and more and more money).

He doesn't really offer an explanation except for "blame the media:"

In politics, the vacuum of strong leadership, effective political parties, bipartisanship, sober media and political tolerance has been filled by media, marketing and phoniness. In private life, the vacuum of tradition and community has been filled by, well, media, marketing and phoniness

Of course, we don't have any idea how happy people were 100 years ago, since modern polling techniques did not exist. Actually, the modern polling techniques really came to the fore in the 1950s, so, we can't use today's numbers with the past.

If we could have conducted a telephone poll among slaves in the middle 1800s, would they have been less happy then as former slaves were 20 years later? The question is silly for a reason.

If everyone is so down on America, why were their record numbers of voters, new voters signing up, incredible amounts of money raised from everyday folks? Is Sen Obama the answer? No, ... today doesn't matter as much as what the expectations for tomorrow are. And, all the progress that Meyer notes in his essay have the effect of RAISING EXPECTATIONS. I don't think our politicians are much different than they were in the past, we just expect more of them and probably hold them even more accountable in many ways....even as incumbents are harder and harder to kick out of office. But it does happen.

Expecations rise, and guess what? People can't keep up. Impatience is an American character flaw. Expectations rise, we expect it now. When expectations are not met, then we get cranky.

I'm not trying to sound "panglossian" here. There are many problems, but ask people about the future when you ask them about today. And, of course, the current 2+ year Presidential campaign is nothing but Ameica is screwed up, vote for me to fix it. Nobody runs to not fix, this never ending campaign constructs problems, points out things that many people might not have noticed, all in the rising expectations game. Jeez, it used to be a chicken in every pot, now politicians re promising virtual immortality! Yikes, am I going to be disappointed when I die.

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