Useful idiots

By Craige McMillan

Major issues – like war, peace and the price we will all soon pay for a gallon of gas – gather passionate devotees around each of their many sides. These men and women are invariably well-educated, articulate, and possess a firm grasp of the facts surrounding the issue. They firmly believe that current events, played out against the backdrop of history, and the choices we make today matter for tomorrow.

Unfortunately, the pleasure of their company is something few Americans will ever experience. We used to call such an encounter conversation. It frequently occurred with guests around the dinner table. Today, so great is the hunger for such encounters that we eat gathered around the television. The experience is about as satisfying as eating a warmed-over, fast-food burger when what you really wanted was a great steak.

Television gives us 10-second soundbites, images of angry protesters and the faces of aggrieved victims – real and imagined – all sandwiched between drug, insurance and automobile advertisements. After this, we are treated to “in depth” coverage where paid “experts” – men and women who are intimately familiar with the revolving doors of our nation’s capital and could easily represent any side – ply their trade. Pet agendas are carefully groomed backstage, then trotted out on screen, the relevant facts dismissed or explained away, and pointed questions ignored or diverted to an opponent.

At the encounter’s end we are left with a few vaporous “talking points” that were assembled earlier in smoke-filled backrooms by paid political hacks whose pledge of allegiance is to the almighty dollar. After we’ve absorbed this wisdom, pollsters telephone us during our next dinnertime to ascertain our opinion on the great issues of the day. This they duly report to our nation’s leaders as the country’s collective opinion, so our leaders will know what to do and how to do it.

If I seem a bit cynical, it’s only because I’ve been observing this game for a long time now. And as Shakespeare noted, the fault, dear Brutus, is not so much in our stars, but in ourselves. We have finally achieved absolute equality. We have become a nation of useful idiots.

Thanks to the world’s most expensive public educational system, most of us know nothing of our nation’s culture and past. Such knowledge is racist and therefore off-limits. Just ask any black-studies, feminist-studies, or homo-erotic-transgendered studies professor at any state-supported institution … they’ll be happy to explain it to you.

As pathetic and uninformed as our opinions are, we can’t voice them at the corporate water cooler, where we might encounter someone with more knowledge about the topic and who is eager to discuss it. No, such an encounter might make a coworker feel “uncomfortable” until we are fired. Our pastors and churches don’t discuss the day’s events because that would be “political” and could divide the congregation – not to mention diminish the contributions that normally find their way into the collection plate.

It’s widely alleged that we have today a “national dialogue” about the really big issues. We have nothing of the sort. We have a one-way propaganda lecture, guided by hidden agendas, nurtured by spin doctors and informed by ignorance. Like a warmed-over burger, this dialogue is destined to leave us with heartburn and indigestion. The left trots out actors and actresses who appear passionate on screen about a cause until a question omitted from their script shatters the moment’s illusion.

Why are we surprised? The actor’s craft is deception – we watch, we laugh and we cry, but to the celebrity manipulating our emotions, it’s all in a day’s work. The right, denied the incubator of the nation’s colleges and universities, trolls its corporate-supported think tanks for media talent to face-off in the debate.

I’ve been around a good length of time, and I can count on one hand the number of conversational encounters with passionate, well-educated, articulate and informed people on any side of a great issue. It’s an experience I wish for each of you, but one that modern life conspires against, to our collective loss.