I’ve been getting solicitation mailings for years from various Republican organizations. Most often they include a survey purporting to show how responsive they are to what the public really wants. The questions are of the “When did you stop beating your wife?” variety. It’s been great sport responding to them, especially if they include a self addressed stamped envelop. I get plenty of fund solicitations from the Democrats but fewer surveys, and the ones they do send tend to be less obviously tilted toward the preferred answers. There is one question on every one, regardless of party: Do you think the country is going in the right direction or the wrong direction?
I hear that same inane question almost daily on radio and television. Newspaper polls often report on it, and today a League of Women Voters survey arrived with the very same question embedded. What, pray tell, is a direction as it applies to the policies, current conditions and possible future conditions of a nation? Is it north, east, west or south? Is it left or right, up or down? Is it this way or that?
My own guess is that it’s a measure of fear and anxiety that may have no basis in fact and little likelihood of a future reality. Moreover, we can all claim that the nation is going in the wrong direction for many, different and opposite reasons. So knowing that some percentage of us believe we are headed in the wrong direction tells us exactly nothing, except, perhaps, as a rough measure of undifferentiated public anxiety. Parenthetically, we hardly ever report that the nation is going in the right direction. What fun is that?
For instance, my conservative friend Don is fearful that we are headed toward European style socialism. He’s been sure of that for decades, and it’s the wrong direction. I, however, am fearful that we are headed toward corporate driven plutocracy masquerading as democracy, and it is also the wrong direction. We’re probably both wrong, but that doesn’t keep us from giving the same answer to those idiotic surveys. We are joined in our answer by those fearful of being overrun by Sharia law, illegal immigrants, ecological disaster, gay marriage, the EPA, whale hunting and the Rapture.
The whole thing is capped off by semi-hysterical television newscasters breathlessly reporting on the latest numbers. If it wasn’t such a serious matter it would make a great Saturday Night Live routine.