Wouldn't that be a great T-Shirt or what? I think when historians write about this era, they will look at the huge stadiums and arenas partially financed by the government, of the Michael Jackson and OJ trials, of the parade of damsels in distress garnering 24-hour coverage on the news stations, of sales tax holidays and refund checks, and of political feel-good wars like Grenada or Iraq I. This era will be the panem et circenses, or "bread and circuses", of the modern day. That term was used to describe the way the Roman emperors kept the populace content and subjugated. It's amazing and distressing to see how easy it is to distract the American public. Why is it that so many people are content to watch garbage news on television instead of real news, if they pay attention to the news at all? Why are so many people averse to even paying attention to politics, even though it strongly affects their daily lives? Instead, people react to scare tactics and vote on "issues" instead of on policy and principle.
It's easy to blame the education system. In fact, that's what the Right has done for nearly 50 years. First it was subverting the American way of life because Black children were allowed to attend, so they moved to the far suburbs, where classrooms were still all White. Now, it's subverting the American way of life because it's not religious enough - because it's teaching Reading, Ritin' and 'Rithmatic instead of the Bible. But I don't think the education system is to blame. Obviously parents have a responsibility to teach their children, but they've abandoned this job. Parents today fight with the teachers more than the students do. They sometimes seem more interested in getting their children good grades than in getting them an education. Homeschooling parents usually manage to get a good education drilled into their kids. Does spending an extra 6-8 hours in a school make them dumber, or are the parents allowing and even encouraging lazy, stupid behavior?
Maybe the current anti-intellectual jihad is a direct consequence of the hippie movement when the boomers were kids. In the 50's and 60's, education was paramount to combat the Soviets. Math and science were pushed hard. Logic was taught so kids could withstand Red propaganda. (A skill we could sorely use today) Then the boomer rebellion came, fueled by the Vietnam conflict. And this was a full-scale rebellion, not only rejecting unquestioned authoritah, er authority, but everything they were expected to do. Make your kids learn science? Hell no, man. That's a downer. My kids are going to be free, man. Science and math and politics are for nerds, man. And so two generations now know virtually nothing about how this country works. (The rest of us are split into two groups - the caretakers and the opportunists, but that's another post)
Or maybe (and here's the conspiracy theorist talking) we are apathetic about the way this country is run because we've been led to it by years of propaganda and brainwashing. I'm not saying there's some sort of official government conspiracy to keep people down ala 1984. I just wonder if a lot of the PR politicians do is designed to suppress any interest in getting involved. Republicans make a lot of GW getting more votes than any other president in history. In fact, it had to do little with his popularity and more to do with the fact that a) there were no third-party candidates like in 1996 or 2000 b) voter turnout was high - the highest as a percent of the voting age population since 1968 and c) he won. Republicans don't publicize that Kerry also got more votes than any other presidential candidate before him. He was like the Sammy Sosa of candidates. Anyway, the reason turnout was so high in 1968 (61% compared to 56% in 2004 and ~50% for the 36 intervening years) was because in 1968 the country was polarized around an issue - race. George Wallace was a third-party candidate running on a platform of anti-civil rights. He got the southern Democrats so riled up that they went and joined the Republicans.
Why is this relevant? A lot has been made about the Karl Rove/Valerie Plame scandal lately. Whether or not Rove is guilty (and we don't know that for certain yet), a crime was committed. Until Rove became the primary suspect, the White House was adamant that Plame's outing as a CIA operative was a crime. Scott McClellan insisted that if anyone from the White House was involved in the Plame affair, he or she would be terminated. Rove has actually already admitted to being involved, although his defense is a rather Clinton-esque "I didn't speak her name" when he identified "Wilson's wife". So will Rove be fired for his involvement? My guess is no. Americans don't seem to particularly care very much about Rove or Plame or spies who don't drive sports cars and shoot bad guys while skiing backwards and speaking with British accents. The White House is hoping this will blow over, and the Right-wing media is downplaying everything, saying completely irrelevant things like "Wilson lied", "Plame was a desk-jockey", "Wilson only went because his wife told him to". Eventually, Bush will name a controversial Supreme Court Justice and Rove will be in the clear.
And Democrats will scratch their heads in bewilderment and wonder how on earth he can get away with this. And it all comes down to "issues". If it's not an exciting story with sex or race or gays or God involved, you can pretty much forget people watching. It's not like Valerie Plame went missing in Aruba. She's not even hot, for goodness sake. And if there's such a thing as "political capital", every organization is too busy burning theirs up fighting issues to waste on a boring legal battle about words spoken to a reporter and shadow corporations in foreign countries. So grab your remote control and your People magazine and flip to TBS - they probably have a James Bond marathon going that will ease your boredom from reading this column.