Wednesday, December 02, 2009

On the American People

Tibor R. Machan

No sooner did President Obama conclude his address on Tuesday evening, December 1, 2009, than hordes of public officials rushed into print or to the microphones to respond. And that is, of course, what sadly one should expect. This is the time when one's opinion might just catch that wave that will carry it to significant numbers of people and might even have a bit of influence or at least place on at center stage of the controversy.

I was paying a bit of attention to this not so much because I expected great wisdom to emerge but because I wanted to hear how the comments are phrased. And sure enough many were framed in just the way I would have feared, namely, in terms of what "the American people want." As if the commentator, some Senator from here, another from there, and so forth, had done a thorough investigation and concluded from it that Americans are all this or that way about what the president proposed to do over there in Afghanistan.

So I heard numerous declaration about what we Americans all want to happen though there was certainly no time to do the kind of research that would justify conclusions about it. Nor is there a currently valid method for taking stock of what all adult Americans want.

So why then are such commentators issuing proclamations about what "the American people want"? One of them confidently announced that the American people do not want to carry on with the war in Afghanistan, another just the opposite. And it seems no one is paying any attention to such brazen presumptuousness, so many folks assuming to be in a position to say what "the American people" want, think, believe, hope, etc. I heard no commentator protesting this kind of language, yet I listened all night and morning quite closely to what was being said on many TV and radio stations and on even more Op Ed and editorial pages. Why is it so readily accepted that some senator or whoever is in the position to tell what the American people think or want?

I assume that this kind of thinking, as fallacious as it clearly is, just comes naturally to those who want to chime in on public policy matters. They may have the idea that they do have the facility to discern what the American people want, never mind that they do not. The delusion from which all these folks appear to suffer is certainly hazardous to public discourse since it is so blatantly off the mark that anyone with but the mildest of critical attitude about the opinions being promulgated will readily dismiss nearly all of it as nonsense, given that there is no way that it could be confirmed or denied.

This is a massive country, with millions of people many of them with backgrounds from all corners of the globe, belonging to different religions, holding diverse political persuasions, and often agnostic about issues involved since there is no time for them to figure things out sufficiently to form a credible opinion. So why do so many public figures pretend to know what "the American people want"? Is it a mere fallacy of projecting one's own views on to everyone else, never mind whether any evidence backs it up or not? Do these public officials who come forth so hastily with statements no one could possibly verify have such a low opinion of those who run across their remarks as to think they can get away with spewing forth their empty rhetoric?

I guess so and that is a pretty telling point. It does suggest that these public officials have a very low opinion of their constituents, which is probably why they are so eager to rush in to "represent" them. They can proceed unchecked with their own agenda, never mind what "the American people" really want.

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