On this day of dreary election post-mortems, I couldn’t help reflecting on an article from Bloomberg News that I read last week. It reminded me of the ways in which the constant noise messes with our ability to think for ourselves.
I’ve got a larger point here, but indulge me while I take a detour: call it politics as metaphor.
Bloomberg Business News — hardly considered a pillar of the “liberal press” even by those who try to pigeonhole news orgs as necessarily left or right — conducted a poll in late October that found that by a margin of two-to-one, prospective voters believed that in the past two years of the Obama administration:
taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) won’t be recovered.
You may believe that too. And clearly, the poll’s findings were borne out by the results of Tuesday’s election — the biggest Republican upset, by the way, since the Truman administration.
But here’s the thing, as the Bloomberg piece points out. Those popular beliefs, the ones that may well be responsible for what Obama called Tuesday’s “shellacking”, are at complete odds with the reality. It’s as if it’s sunny outside, but people are continually being told it’s actually raining, so all they do is bitch about the weather. Let’s check back in with Bloomberg, shall we? (This is business news, remember. Not a partisan editorial.)
The Obama administration has cut taxes — largely for the middle class — by $240 billion since taking office Jan. 20, 2009. A program aimed at families earning less than $150,000 that was contained in the stimulus package lowered the burden for 95 percent of working Americans by $116 billion, or about $400 per year for individuals and $800 for married couples. Other measures include breaks for college education, moderate- income families and the unemployed and incentives to promote renewable energy.
In an October report to Congress, released as TARP turned two years old, the Treasury said it had recovered most of the $245 billion spent on the Wall Street bank part of the rescue, and expects to turn a $16 billion profit. In the Bloomberg poll, 60 percent of respondents say they believe most of the TARP money to the banks is lost and only 33 percent say most of the funds will be recovered.
The perceptions of voters about the performance of the economy are also at odds with official data. The recession that began in December 2007 officially ended in June 2009, making the 18-month stretch the longest since the Great Depression. In the past year, the economy has grown 3 percent and is expected to show improvement in the second quarter of this year.
Do we get sucked so far into into the rhetoric that we never have time to think for ourselves? Do we buy a seat on the bandwagon without even without even considering whether we want to be there?
When it comes to making political decisions, the noise comes at us from all directions: straight news, op-eds, blogs, cable TV, campaign ads, facebook share tags, tweets, bloviators, opinionators and blahdeblah. The list goes on, but the bottom line is this. Too. Much. Information. And the result is that all of it, every bit, becomes so confusing that it becomes a real chore to sort the real from the rhetoric. So that we’re tempted to just walk away and say: Screw it. I’ll just have what she’s having. (We know how that one ends)
And so I wonder. As in politics, so in life? Does this constant state of TMI, this state of confusion, super-saturate us when it comes to life decisions, too? Consider the cacophany: opinion pieces, media images, personal essays, status updates, tweets upon tweets, messages from everyone from family to friends to Suzy from Ohio, all selling their own version of “ought.” Small wonder, then, that going quiet, taking the time to figure out what’s real and what’s not, deciding who we are and what we want to be becomes a pretty impossible task.
Unless, of course, we cover our ears.