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February 13, 2013
Welcome to 21st Century America
A recent Gallup poll revealed that President Obama rates high on foreign affairs and low on the deficit. That he is regarded highly by our fellow citizens on foreign affairs is disconcerting because he's doing more harm to us and to others than anyone in the "free world" since Neville Chamberlain. I'll go one step further, by attempting to disarm U.S. citizens at a time when we face greater risks than at any time since World War II, Obama makes Chamberlain look like a hawk.
How can you explain the fact that typical Americans think Obama is doing well on the foreign front? Rush Limbaugh refers to Obama supporters in general as "low information voters." He's on the right track, but I've seen evidence suggesting that the problem extends beyond Obama's acolytes. I have a Facebook group for a book that I wrote titled His Name is Yahweh. Members of the group aren't ordinary readers, but they have a liking for shorter rather than longer pieces, and by longer I don't mean very long. Even more alarming, they prefer pictures to articles.
For example, a catchy cartoon attracts about ten times as many responses as a meaty article, and a gory picture elicits a deluge of comments and goes viral in a heartbeat. That saddens me, but it's the truth, and I have roughly 4 years of data to support my conclusion. It reminds me of a clip from the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles starring Steve Martin and John Candy. They are on a bus trip, and Candy encouraged Martin to start a sing-along song. He began singing Three Coins in a Fountain, and the response was stone-cold silence. Recognizing the problem, Candy started singing the theme song from The Flintstones, and he got an enthusiastic response. That's a depressing but accurate depiction of 21st century America.
Sometimes I wonder if we aren't making a tragic mistake by packaging our messages in articles that are too long for average readers. In 1982, John Naisbitt wrote a book titled Megatrends. It was on the New York Times Bestseller List for two years. In it, he claimed that you can get a handle on what's taking place around the world and extrapolate to pinpoint what comes next (i.e., trends) by simply reading the headlines and article titles in major newspapers.
I was associate dean of my school at the time, and my dean asked his administrative team to read the book and prepare to discuss it. I was skeptical about the book's thesis, so I started doing as Naisbitt suggested. Each day I read the headlines and article titles from a wide variety of highly regarded news sources, and much to my surprise, I discovered that Naisbitt was right.
The model for my blog, SnyderTalk, is based on Naisbitt's finding. Each day, it includes the titles of articles from around the world with hyperlinks. By reading the article titles and the text of articles of particular interest, readers can keep abreast and become well-informed.
One criticism of SnyderTalk is that I include too many articles each day. That's probably true, but I prefer to err on the side of providing too much information rather than too little. Still, based on what I see taking place in the U.S., I wonder if my readers wouldn't be better served if I cut the number of articles to 10 or 20 each day. I haven't moved in that direction so far because there is a great deal to know, and I don't want to penalize serious readers. The day may come when I have a change of heart, though.
With that information as backdrop, I believe the only rational way to explain why typical Americans think that President Obama is doing a good job in foreign affairs or any other area is that they are not well-informed. They may be "low information" voters/readers as Rush Limbaugh says; they may be intellectually lazy; or they may not care, but this much is certain: average readers aren't well-informed and show no desire to overcome the problem. Regrettably, they are probably too unaware to realize that they have a problem.
President Obama understands the situation better than most. He talks incessantly and provides precious little detail on issues, but he does possess a captivating delivery style. Like riders on the bus in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, average Americans sing along with him gleefully even though he is leading us in a dangerous direction toward a precipice while he croons a soothing melody. Some argue that Obama lacks substance. I disagree. I think he knows exactly what he's doing.
For example, last night in his State of the Union speech, the president conjured up images of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and other atrocities that were perpetrated by crazed lunatics to buttress his message that we need to further restrict guns and magazines at a time when evidence suggests that law-abiding citizens need more and better weapons to defend our families in case the need arises. Unfortunately, he failed to mention Christopher Dorner. He's a serial killer, an ex-cop, and an embodiment of evil, but he has attracted a cult following among Obama supporters.
Was the president's omission an oversight? I doubt it. I think he said what he believes people want to hear in hopes of moving his agenda forward regardless of the consequences. He did the same thing where foreign policy issues were concerned hoping to placate his political opponents and maintain his support among the uninformed.
Ironically, following the SOTU speech, Obama plans to visit several cities including Chicago to push his agenda. I say "ironically" because that city, in particular, is a perfect example of what happens when Obama's policies are fully implemented. The Windy City is a crime ridden and decaying mass of humanity whose future looks bleak, and it's not for the lack of gun control or federal largess. Some have gone so far as to argue that Chicago is in such dire straits that we should wall it off and turn it into an open-air prison. I won't go that far, but I will say this: we can't afford to allow our cities to deteriorate any further.
If we hope to inform our fellow citizens and win their support, we need to do a much better job of packaging our message. That means we need shorter articles with pictures--lots of pictures and the more explicit the better. The old newspaper adage "if it bleeds, it leads" applies here. Another axiom applies as well: KISS--Keep it Simple Stupid.
This is the bottom line: we can't change this nation for the better unless we attract support from average Americans. That's a simple fact.
Neil Snyder is the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.
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