A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
When I was young, people were just beginning to talk about the Generation Gap; that mythical disconnect between the young and the old that coloured so much of my generation. Time passed, and as the Class of ’68 got older, this phenom morphed into the Credibility Gap. After all, whining about the older generation when you’re standing there with a husband, a boyfriend, a mortgage, two cars and three kids just sounds silly. However, the Credibility Gap was significantly different from “You’re an old, old dog and I’m a young, young puppy; I simply can’t relate to you.*” It was no longer just a function of age. Credibility had an active ingredient. It could be lost; it had to be maintained, and there was always the connotation that, when credibility was lost, it was through some wanton act of deception – a dirty deed, if you will. From there, maybe a generation later, the Credibility Gap itself mutated and became the Information Gap. As more and more spin was applied to even the most basic facts, nearly everything that wasn’t nailed down lost its credibility. People simply didn’t believe the information they were given. However, the fiction that credibility – or, rather, the lack of it — was inherently tangled up with something sinister survived and, in fact, thrived. The supposition was — and remains to this day — “If I don’t believe you, you must be evil.”
Fast forward to 2012 and the American election. Last week, a George Washington University poll showed some astonishing results. In six out of six categories (the economy, foreign policy, spending, taxes, Medicare and job creation) the American middle class favoured Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama, and not just by a little bit: they ranged from 2% on Medicare to 15% on spending. Yes, this throws a monkey wrench into the “Romney’s finished” school of thought, but before you get your knickers in a knot, the really interesting bit is in the seventh category, “Who best stands up for the middle class?” Barack Obama beat Mitt’s brains out — by a whopping plus 8%! Think about it! In all the hard core categories that count, people favour Romney, yet, on the wishy-washy “How do you feel about it?” category that leads directly to the ballot box, President Obama won, hands down. This is an example of the Information Gap.
Everybody knows that Barack Obama is not a very good president. Even Yellow Dog Democrats are beating the bushes, trying to find good things to say about the guy. The best they can come up with so far is he inherited a hell of a mess and the Republicans are being mean to him. While these are both true, unfortunately, folks, neither one of them is what anybody would call an accomplishment. Especially since he got hired in the first place because he specifically told everybody, from Stockholm to Santa Barbara, that he was the new broom who would deal with these situations and with anything else that came down the pike. What a difference a term makes! I’m not going to get into chapter and verse about how bad the Obama administration is; however, I will say this: nobody’s talking about a Golden Age in America these days, not even Alec Baldwin. In fact, most people are discussing the eminent decline and fall. These are facts. The apologists can bob and weave all they like, but, to quote John Adams: “Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” The facts are the last four years in America have been the closest thing to a disaster without actually getting there.
Okay, you have an incumbent president who isn’t worth much; one would assume that Harold the Talking Penguin could beat the guy. Nay-Nay! Not only is Obama holding his own, he’s actually leading in a number of important (read “swing”) states. Barack Obama has a real chance of getting re-elected. Why? Because his opponent, Mitt Romney, is rich, and the talk around the campfire is rich people can’t be trusted. The assumption is Romney will somehow subvert the government (that dirty deed we were talking about) to further the ends of his rich friends. There is no evidence of this: no smoking gun at Bain and Company, no skeletons discovered at the 2002 Winter Olympics and no bodies buried at the Governor’s Mansion in Massachusetts. Yet the rumour persists.
This is the Information Gap taken to its natural conclusion. The last four years have shown that — at best — President Obama is incompetent, and some would say downright negligent. On the other hand, Mitt Romney has been a successful business person, a community organizer who rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics, and a fiscally responsible governor who eliminated Massachusetts’ deficit. Yet, despite all the information available and the fact that 62% of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, there is a better than even chance that the American people will give Barack Obama a mandate to continue to govern them badly. Go figure!
*Sesame Street or The Electric Company; I don’t remember which.