Friday, August 21, 2009

Why Public Opinion Sucks

During public debates about complex issues like heath care, polls are inevitably commissioned to find out what the average person's opinion is. And inevitably, this polls show the same thing, over and over: whoever this "average person" is, he must be about as dumb as a box of one-pronged forks.

Such a poll was released by NBC on Tuesday. It shows that many Americans have "doubts" about Obama's proposed health care plan, and it also shows the reason why--many people don't know what Obama's health care plan consists of. 45 percent of those surveyed thought that health care reform would lead to government bureaucrats having life-or-death powers over the elderly. Even more people than that thought that illegal aliens would be insured under Obama's plan, and that the government would be taking over health care completely. All of these things are not true. But that doesn't stop people from having opinions about them.

In fact, when people taking this survey were read a description of Obama's plan, 17 percent of them went from disliking the plan to liking it. This probably means a lot of them had never heard it described before, yet they had an opinion on it. They didn't say, "I don't know what I think about Obama's plan, because I've never heard it described," which would make them uninformed. They said they didn't like the plan, because someone on talk radio or TV said something like that, although they can't remember what the guy said exactly, only it sounded good at the time--and that makes them stupid.

I don't like throwing the word "stupid" around lightly, but what else do you call someone who has opinions without knowing what the opinions are about? What do you call someone who's "opinions" are made up stories and repetitions of other people's lies? 24 percent of the country believes we're in violation of the Constitution right now, having elected a native-born Indonesian, or Filipino, or whatever, as our President. A portion of people in that poll "weren't sure" whether Obama is a Frenchman. 20 percent of the birthers were Democrats, which means, presumably but bizarrely, that they think Obama is President illegally but are fine with it. What the fuck else can you call them but "stupid?" How can you believe we're capable of discussing any complex issue as a country when a quarter of us thinks the American President is a foreigner? Is it any wonder that the "town hall" meetings/publicity events have turned into a bunch of fanatics and hired protestors screaming slogans at one another?

This is how I see the state of the health care debate: a set of roommates decide to buy a new fridge, because the current fridge no longer keeps anything cool, and also appears to be leaking a sort of viscous green liquid from the bottom. So after a few months of watching the fluid make a puddle on the floor they get together and try to figure out the best way to reform their fridge. One guy says, "Let's get this fridge I saw at the store. It seems okay." Then someone else says, "I don't know. Won't that guy Jerry just come in here and use our fridge?"

"What are you talking about?" comes the reply. "I didn't say anything about Jerry."

"Let's just get a bunch of ice and put it in the fridge," someone else says. "I don't think our fridge is that bad."

"We have to get a blue fridge!" another roommate yells abruptly.

"Guys, this 'fridge' business is sounding a lot like Hitler. Didn't he have a fridge?"

"Look, a new fridge is fine, but I don't want my girlfriend getting an abortion!" another guy says. "I won't allow it!"

Another roommate puts an automatic rifle on the table. "This gun is loaded, and no one is going to take it away from me!"

"We have to get a blue fridge!"

"You racist redneck!"

"You Nazi!

Are these roommates going to be happy with their new fridge?

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