The clueless comfort zone

    Yesterday we discussed the stupidity of certain politicians. Today we conclude the week with an ode to the stupidity of certain citizens.From time to time I have highlighted the willful ignorance that permeates the land. In the words of Frank Zappa, “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.”It’s not particularly fun to point out how ill-informed people can be, which is why I choose only the examples that seem most pathetic. This is one of those days.The other night Fox News aired a segment from Iowa, featuring a focus group comprised of 25 conservative Republican voters. It was conducted by Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster. They complained about Barack Obama, in accordance with their political views. These folks are Iowa Republican caucus-goers, and they wouldn’t vote for a Democrat even if he promised to jail George Soros and erect a Ronald Reagan statue in the Rose Garden. Which is fine.But after they finish faulting Obama for his response to the Egypt crisis, Luntz asks them: “What is the solution? What do you do?”And this sage character in the front row replies: “I would just like to see him be proud of America, represent America, our history. I just want him to be proud of who we are, and have the ability to put out all of the positives this country’s represented.”Meanwhile, of course, heads are nodding all around him. Never mind the fact that he never answered the question (because he clearly didn’t have a clue about Egypt). What really fascinates is the ignorance embedded in the answer he chose to give.So he’d like to see Obama “be proud of America” and “be proud of who we are” and “put out all the positives.” Oh, really? He’s never heard Obama say such things?”We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed….What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea – the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here….I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on earth…We all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from…We do big things. From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream…I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there.  I know we will. We do big things. The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward.”So said Obama just 17 days ago, in the State of the Union. As I recall, the speech was on national TV. The newspapers ran transcripts. The transcript is online.No doubt this guy, and the nearby nodding heads, would prefer to dwell cluelessly in their comfort zone – as British novelist Aldous Huxley once said, “the pleasures of ignorance are as great, in their way, as the pleasures of knowledge” – but, seriously, it takes just one click of the mouse, or the TV remote, to attain a nodding acquaintance with factual reality.But the best focus group moment came shortly thereafter, during a critique of Obama’s beliefs. A woman in the second row declared with great certitude: “I believe that he is a Muslim.”Oh. So we’re back to that one, yet again. Murmurs of assent sweep the group. A woman down front pipes up, “I do think it’s quite possible he is Muslim, even though he says he is Christian.”

    By now, Luntz has asked for a show of hands. He asks, how many of you think Obama is a Muslim? Of the 25 participants, 10 say yes. That’s 40 percent. If only Mark Twain was alive to watch the video. I suspect he would have rolled out one of his more scabrous lines: “The trouble ain’t that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain’t distributed right.” But that’s way too harsh, of course. Since I’m quoting smart people, I’ll finish the week with Martin Luther King:”Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

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