Don't Flush - President in the Toilet

The President’s approval ratings are in the toilet. Only 34% of Americans think he is doing a good job. It could be worse. The Republicans in Congress weigh in 7% lower than their president. But as bad as all that, even they float 2% above Congressional Democrats. Now is the winter of everyone’s discontent - and it’s still November.

Most people think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Only 27% are optimistic. The only time people were in a sourer mood was back in 1995, when only 24% were happy with the way things were going. Depressing even for an optimist is that most people almost never think the country is headed in the right direction. In fact it only clearly broke 50% during the unusual period of December 2001.

How can this be? With few exceptions everything is better now than it used to be. Why all the angst? There are three interrelated explanations. One is the nature of popular democracy. It goes back to the Athenians, who eventually turned on anybody who stood out too long or too prominently. Then there is "hedonistic adaptation," a fancy way of saying people get used to good things and don't feel happy or grateful for what they’ve got. It is why people who have things too easy too long are often not happy while those who survived tragedies sometimes are. It helps explain the high numbers in December 2001. But those things have been around a long time. What changed?

A recent development is the enhanced success of the negative campaign coupled with unreasonable expectations. We bloggers are part of this. No matter how loyal, true or brave, nobody is perfect and everybody has something in his/her life that is shameful or can be made to look that way. We find it. The ubiquity of the Internet makes it easy to uncover true miscreants and truly makes miscreants of honest people.

None of the leaders we admire most would be qualified for public service today. Washington would have ended his career at the Monongahela. Franklin makes Bill Clinton look like a Trappist monk. Jefferson had his - shall we say - personal inconsistencies. Lincoln was depressive. Grant was drunk. Theodore Roosevelt was mercurial. His cousin Franklin was often less than truthful.

All of the important advances that make our lives better would engender fear and be shunned as dangerous and dodgy propositions by our precautionary standards. Electricity! Do you really want something like that in your home? It starts fires. It can kill you with a mere touch. And can we prove that it doesn't cause cancer? How about food? If you analyzed the chemical composition of an apple (even an organic one) and had to put that on an ingredients label nobody would eat them.

People's perceptions are not going to improve until they wise up about the world. Detection has improved, but our perceptions have not changed. Imagine if the cops developed a sure fire technology to catch every speeder, every illegal parker or anyone who broke any traffic laws at all. Would we still want to maintain the same rules and penalties? Anyone who drives a car, rides a bike, or even crosses a street on foot would be revealed as a law breaker. Would it mean our standards have dropped? It is time to be realistic. That does not mean low standards, but it does mean not seeking utopia. Improvement are impossible under two sets of standards: lackadaisically low and unreasonably high. It is time to bring back the reasonable man standard before we all do down the toilet.

Posted by Jack at November 27, 2005 10:16 PM