Polls, Not Thought
Copyright © by Len Holman, 1/4/12
In 2011, a year whose passing is lamented only by disaster buffs and fans of worldwide chaos, the Pew Research Center found that 62% of those polled said they wouldn’t mind if a Presidential candidate were gay, and 68% wouldn’t mind if he or she were Mormon, but 61% said they’d find it hard to vote for an atheist. Let’s unpack these numbers.
I find it impossible to believe that someone like a Barney Frank could become his party’s nominee for President, and I find it more unbelievable that he would be elected President. I don’t know if Pew asked respondents about “openly gay” candidates. These are different from just regular gay ones. Regular gay ones are everywhere and are, for the most part, unrecognizable. They sell you shoes and work in banks, teach your kids and mow lawns, fix plumbing, and remain among us. The openly gay people are the ones who identify themselves in some way, whom others know are gay. Are these the people who Pew identified as winning the approval of 62% of Americans? These people get nothing but trouble from the rest of us, including disdain, discomfort and disjointing—so we’d elect one for President? Is this before or after he or she is dragged behind a truck or proclaimed the spawn of the devil?
There is no mention of transgendered people in this survey, but if it’s difficult to imagine a gay man or lesbian being elected President of the United States, how much harder is it to imagine a transgendered man or woman in the oval office? Even though 48 states have gay and/or transgender people serving in political offices, many people see the LGBT community as one cesspool of sin and degradation. As for that 68% who wouldn’t mind a Mormon in the White House, I suppose Mitt likes the sound of that—but before his wife rushes out to get gold plates for state dinners, he should consider: who is the most prominent person in the interminable Republican primaries? Hint: it’s not Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. Not yet, anyway. It’s Jesus in his many permutations—punisher, restorer of American greatness, keeper of American values, messenger to potential candidates, and general keeper of the constitutional flame. Moroni is nowhere to be found, and sooner or later Mitt will have to convince evangelicals and religious conservatives and tea party stalwarts that he’s not the Anti-Christ.
So I am skeptical of this percentage, skeptical of who was asked, skeptical that, when push comes to shove, Republicans as a generic group will vote for a Mormon, as long as the candidate’s religious affiliation is prominent—and in the slugfest which has become the Republican primary season, it WILL come up, one way or the other. The only way Romney wins the nomination is if evangelicals and those pretentiously-named “values voters” hold their noses and hate Obama so much they’ll vote Mormon. The 61% who claim they would not vote for an atheist would not, therefore, vote for the Buddha, should he ever return, since original Buddhism was atheistic, putting the burden for karmic upward mobility on the individual. Are the Koch brothers going to give any money to a person who doesn’t go to church or goes to services in a grove of redwoods with Wiccans, or who lets people believe what they want and who just cares about doing the job he/she was elected for? Polls are funny; people tell pollsters things they would LIKE to believe about themselves, things they hope sound tolerant and serious. No atheist is going to get Bachmann’s backers’ vote or Santorum’s or Perry’s. Listen to the rhetoric from the candidates and see if you can hear the ghosts of the Apostles shuffling behind the Messiah. It seems the electorate can’t or won’t think without a poll to lead the way. We act toward polls as if they had come down from Mt. Sinai or been promulgated by Walter Cronkite. Polls, however, are fluid.
After Iowa, we’ll all hang breathlessly on the thousand results of the New Hampshire poll, and after that…well, we all know what’s next: another bunch of polls. And it’s only January. It all reminds one of that 1947 Jimmy Stewart movie, “Magic Town” in which Stewart finds a small town which exactly mirrors national polls. Of course, it all goes to hell when the townspeople find out about their celebrity and the polls Stewart takes in the town begin to wildly diverge from national ones. Jimmy gets Jane Wyman at the end, so he doesn’t suffer too much, and the holy grail of polling remains undiscovered, or re-buried. The difference between THAT polling and OUR polling is that polls used to be for information, not used as a substitute for thinking for oneself, for abandoning the responsibility to think without slogans, without labels. No matter how Iowa has turned out (or any other state), we’ll hear pundits going over the minutia of entrance and exit polls, voter breakdowns by hair color and shoe size, and a complete and repetitive examination of why a particular person “won” and what it means for the ones who “lost” and on and on. Is this what democracy signed up for? If polls mean anything, it’s employment in a bad economy for the pollsters. Polls drum up business for local eateries, as seen in the mind-numbing TV shows coming from diners in Iowa. More polls, more commentary, more reporters and pundits converging, more business. If a TV viewer didn’t know any better, he or she might think it’s all another stimulus package, and wonder if the conservative bloc of the Republican Party knows it’s participating in a secret Democratic plot.
At any rate, please don’t tell me what the polls say. Just let me hear what Santorum’s position is on gay rights and how it destroys America, or what happens if Paul gets his way and eliminates the Department of Education and all the states get to choose how they educate their kids—and no Title I in sight. Or what would happen if all the western states were deprived of a district court, as Gingrich has suggested. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine any poll which asks voters about a particular candidate’s fiscal or monetary policy, or why Iran doesn’t have a right to a nuclear program of some kind, or any complicated subject requiring contemplative thought. Our democratic system gives us sound bites and bumper sticker slogans in place of real debates. So now we’ll get polls and more polls, for which we are grateful, since it frees us to think of important things like which phone to buy. Thinking is hard to do; that’s why so little of it is done.
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