I AM not a love-it-or-leave-it American. I'm an in-it-for-the-long-haul American, celebrating progress, lamenting regression, and plugging away for the new and improved. But I'm perplexed about one problem plaguing the state of the union that is particularly resilient to rescue. I'm afraid we are afflicted with an outbreak of shallow thinking in the land. The condition is widespread and the cure is elusive.
The symptoms of our collective deficiencies in cognitive exertion are especially evident in the critical discussions or lack thereof concerning U.S. foreign policy.
The Bush White House has masterfully used the public's general indifference to all things overseas to its advantage in war and peace - but mostly war. It has successfully reinforced the notion that finessing foreign sensibilities is a fickle experiment at best and citizens need not trouble themselves unduly over multilateral tangos.
Moreover, to display its faux affinity for the common man, the administration has boiled down the whole foreign relations thing to one easy understanding. You're either fer or agin' us, said the man from Midland, Texas. Simple, straightforward, and as shallow as they come. Yet it was all the gunslingers in Washington had to say to the world before shooting their way into Baghdad to spread democracy, topple an evil empire, and destroy weapons of mass destruction.
Well, one out of three ain't bad. And it's good enough for a homeland largely afraid to doubt the wisdom of a done deal or question a kick-ass commander in chief gunning for retribution in the Middle East. Despite protests to the contrary, people preferred to believe that the President must know more than they do about dreadful Iraq and were content to leave it at that.
Three years and more than 1,500 American deaths later, with the U.S. nowhere close to escaping the warfare it started there, Americans still nod like lemmings when the President insists "democracy is on the march" amid the rubble of Iraq and resurging Taliban influence in Afghanistan.
Frankly, shallow is good enough when too much reflection might bring reality into focus. And if the genuine article is dramatically different from the official version, then what? We live in fast-food times with little patience for complexities or shades of gray. We are not a country predisposed to ponder too many variables in life. The need to know is overrated.
Not surprisingly our politicians mirror the society they serve. They craft easy-on-the-ears stump speeches that a first grader could repeat word for word. They perfect catch phrases to sum up everything from war to welfare guaranteed to appease the not-so-inquiring minds of their audiences. And if the malleable masses are spoon-fed disaster packaged as appealing dessert, darned if they don't line up for more.
In the prevailing shallowness of America, the shrewd can inherit the earth. They can lead an anxious but trusting nation into a war of choice by sounding as if they had no other option. They can push through tax breaks that cost trillions and plump up record deficits by sounding as if fiscal restraint would be folly. They can promote private accounts as saving supplements to Social Security by sounding as if personal investment is preferable to government checks, reliability notwithstanding.
Shallowness allows schemers to gut environmental programs by sounding as though they advocate them with cleverly named initiatives that only a profit-seeking polluter could love. They can sell their propaganda as mainstream news without disclaimer by sounding sincere in their unorthodox approach to winning friends and influencing voters. They can even obscure the tangled web of deceit that Condi Rice lugs around in first-term baggage by sounding like 2008 could be her year.
And America the beautiful will bite at whatever sounds good or seems right if it's smartly delivered by someone who simply must know more than the average bloke about politics, prosperity, and pre-emptive war. Besides, how wrong can it be when those leading us all off the cliff sound as if pain is precluded altogether? If the consequences of poor policy from fiscal to foreign ever raise the specter of sacrifice, as they surely will and surely are, the shallow won't know what to think.
Or how. It's that bad and policy makers only pray it gets worse.