Al Gore’s recent book, “The Assault on Reason,” could not have been timelier: for a mainstream politician to point not only at his political adversaries for embracing irrationality, but also the voting public for irrational thinking, is amazing. Sadly, though Mr. Gore has become more popular and high profile due to his campaign on global climate change and has been prescient regarding the war on Iraq, his useful book ranks as only #264 on the Amazon.com best sellers list; respectable but not earth-shaking. I guess people are fine with blaming the politicians they vote for but not fine with looking in the mirror for their lousy decision-making in picking them in the first place.
This comes as no surprise to those who have received the INQUIRER newsletter over the years. In 2004 we reported about a PIPA survey (go to http://www.pipa.org/archives/us_opinion.php) showing how voters who had the facts wrong regarding Saddam Hussein, 9-11, world opinion and WMDs in effect re-elected President Bush. If you thought Saddam Hussein took part in the 9-11 plot and that WMDs were found in Iraq, and that the world wanted the US to attack Iraq, you were much more likely to vote for President Bush. Coincidentally, I’m sure, if you watched FoxNews you were worst informed; but if you watched PBS news, you usually had the (three) facts straight.
Now that the average citizen has “seen the light” regarding the Iraq invasion and no longer agrees, on the average, that this was a good idea, have we learned from our mistakes of the past?
Answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Here is what PIPA found in March 2006:
Though their numbers are declining, a majority of Republicans continue to believe that before the war, Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or a major program for developing them and do not think that most experts believe Iraq did not have WMDs. A growing majority of Democrats believe the opposite on both points. Sixty percent of Republicans continue to believe that Iraq had WMD (41%) or a major program for developing them (19%), representing only a modest decrease from the 70 percent who held such beliefs in an October 2004 Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll.
A majority of Republicans, though declining, maintains the belief that Iraq was providing substantial support to al-Qaeda and that clear evidence of this support has been found, in contrast to large majorities of Democrats who hold opposing beliefs.
You might argue, based on these reports that the problem is isolated with Republicans; that they are often out of touch with reality for some reason. This would be a bad assumption.
DATE: August 2, 2006
SOURCE: Scripps Howard News Service
HEADLINE: "Anti-government anger spurs 9/11 conspiracy belief"
WRITER/REPORTER(s): Thomas Hargrove and Guido H. Stempel III
BODY: More than a third of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East, according to a new Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll… The poll found that a majority of young adults give at least some credence to a 9/11 conspiracy compared to less than a fourth of people 65 or older. Members of racial and ethnic minorities, people with only a high school education and Democrats were especially likely to suspect federal involvement in 9/11. (Go to http://www.newspolls.org/story.php?story_id=55.)
Last month’s sixth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks brought out many of the conspiracy theorists who somehow are able to overlook bin Laden’s recent commemoration of the event, and his lauding of one of his 19 hijacking martyrs.
It’s as if “merely” flying two jets into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon would not have been enough to start the ball rolling on a retaliatory war (it would have been enough, duh!): for some reason conspiracy theorists think it was necessary to make sure they were blown up and completely destroyed!
The American public has been convinced in the past to support wars for far less reason. In fact, going after bin Laden would have been totally justified even if the WTC towers did not fall. You could have argued about the methodology of going after bin Laden, but all rational persons should have sought justice and security after such an attack.
Let’s go further: what if the FBI had arrested the hijackers BEFORE the flights, making huge heroes out of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Ashcroft and every other relevant Administration member for preventing the whole catastrophe. If, after their great deed, they said we needed to go to war against bin Laden, who would have argued? Some, perhaps, but the case for going after bin Laden would STILL had been legitimate even if there were not a scratch on the WTC. There was no good reason for the Federal government to either conspire or allow the World Trade Centers to be destroyed by bin Laden, especially if they wanted to target Saddam Hussein in the long run. In fact, preventing the attack would have secured this Administration’s place in history, particularly if the Iraq adventure subsequently never occurred. I cannot think of any scenario that could have motivated the Administration to even allow or hesitate to act (other than their by now well-documented incompetence) the attack on the World Trade Center. Irrationality inspired or caused by an incompetent administration is still irrational.
So most Republicans have the facts wrong, and many Democrats have their own blind spots. Who is left to vote on a reasoned basis?
That is why the Center for Inquiry exists; to promote reason for humane ends in a non-partisan manner. Still, one can’t help but look at the irrationality around us and wonder if our democracy is in real trouble when so few seem to be able to think straight. Our task ahead is huge.