Dr. Petruso happened to catch Tim Russert on the NBC Nightly News Monday, December 15. Russert described--without smirking, professional journalist that he is--an NBC News/Wall Street Journal telephone poll begun the previous Saturday and completed Sunday. It asked the peculiar but venerable question which has come to provide a reliable barometer of the mood of the nation: "Is the country headed in the right direction?"

On Saturday (before Saddam Hussein's capture was announced), 41% of the respondents said yes. On Sunday (the day after his capture), 56% said yes. And, concomitantly, President Bush's personal approval rating spiked by six points.

Since the poll straddled those two days, it provided an unpredictable and rare opportunity to assess immediately the impact of a Big Event. Dr. Petruso finds the results of this poll astonishing, and not a little disturbing. The poll suggests that there had been a single, simple explanation for why our country was going down the tubes, namely that a deposed evil despot in a remote and insignificant corner of the world was at large. A police action--the collaring of a pathetic lunatic, mind you--somehow turned our country around immediately and decisively. This event instantly achieved the status and significance of deliberative policy set by the leadership in Washington. One can practically see Karl Rove rubbing his hands and giggling cynically over the pliability of the unwashed masses.

The results of this poll offer compelling proof that the American public has all the capacity for thoughtfulness and reflection of an amoeba. They confused a random (albeit welcome) discovery with a decision and, desperate for good news-- any good news--they connected a police action with a national direction. To an angry, confused and very edgy American populace, an accidental but spectacular discovery looks like a thought.

Now hear this: The probability that an anciently fractious, religiously volatile and intolerant amalgamation of tribes, humiliated by foreign invasion and provided with a ruler hand-picked by the invaders, will put up with an occupation, embrace an alien political philosophy and dispense a secular, Western brand of justice, is precisely zero. It betrays a simplistic, jingoistic, arrogant foreign policy and an understanding of the world that is breathtakingly naïve. And the rosy transformation predicted by the neocon ideologues in the Pentagon is as likely to occur in Iraq as it is to occur in Afghanistan.

"Democracy is a beautiful thing," the old saw goes, "except for that part about letting just any old yokel vote." This poll has Dr. Petruso wondering whether there might be some wisdom in this cynical saying after all.


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