Sunday, January 23, 2005

Do the math

This just in from CNN: Americans don’t understand fractions.

Actually, that’s not really what this story says. Instead, it reports the results of a CNN/USA Today poll on whether or not Americans see George W. Bush as a “divider” or a “uniter.” Not surprisingly, given the recent election, opinion was split pretty much down the middle, with 49% of those polled believing that Dubya has divided the country, while another 49% are apparently of the opinion that he is a force for unity.

To their credit, the folks at CNN don’t point out that those who believe Bush is a “uniter” are patently wrong, as you can’t get much more divided than those results. Even more astonishing is that the results almost exactly mirror a similar poll taken in October. So for at least three months, there have been consistent messages in the media that Americans are, erm, divided in their opinion of the president, and yet a whopping one out of two citizens somehow have convinced themselves that a half equals a whole.

In a way, this explains a lot about the Bush presidency — how, for example, his administration has managed to convince voters that it’s not insane to increase spending while cutting taxes, or that it takes only 153,000 troops to control a country of 25 million people (and 432,000 square miles). Dubya and his supporters don't do the math. They don’t have to — they have faith. They believe in his vision of the future, while all those numbers add up to little more than pesky details.

That’s why no amount of schooling will convince them that Bush’s proposal for privatizing Social Security won’t work. If you believe that two-percent compounded interest will, over time, eventually become six percent, that’s good enough. Those who would argue otherwise are merely partisan nay-sayers, after all. Believe.

Not coincidentally, “believe” was the message not-so-subtly built into one the Christmas holidays’ big hits, The Polar Express. Nevermind that the actual plot consists of grabbing a non-believer by the scruff of the neck and rubbing his face in reality long enough for “belief” to take root. (This, apparently, is what passes for salvation in contemporary American popular culture.) No, the message viewers are expected to take away as they exit the googleplex is, If you truly believe, magical things will happen.

And so two-percent interest gets compounded into six-percent; spending more than you take in leads to prosperity; a half equals the whole. It only takes a little belief, America.

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