Thursday, July 15, 2010

Public Confidence

I saw a recent Gallup Poll that rated the American public's confidence in a number of institutions. The question, specifically, was tell me how much confidence you, yourself have in each of these institutions.

Overall, the military showed a positive score of 82%, the highest among all categories. Small business was a distant second at 67%. Following, only the police (59%), the church (52%), and the presidency (51%) were above 50%. Public schools came in at 38%. Television news was rated at 23%, banks at 22%, and HMOs at 18%. Congress and big business were the lowest at 17% and 16%, respectively.

Is the American public losing confidence in many of its longstanding institutions? And is that loss of confidence justified?

The answer to both questions is, in my opinion, yes. Network television news is shedding viewers in much the same manner as a theater would shed moviegoers if someone entered and shouted, "Hijacked plane circling overhead." Dealing with banks and HMOs is rarely joyful, even when you finally get past the "If you'd like to hear this in English, press 1 now" to start your long wait. And what about Congress? Their rating seems a bit charitable, actually. In general the more the public sees of its elected officials, the more repulsed it becomes. With big business, some of the sharks who run (or did run) several of the major corporations have created far more misery than "value" in the past several years. They loved Bush, then they hated him. Then they loved Obama, now they hate him. Their great skill is in creating astonishing wealth for themselves, and not much else beyond sniffing the rumps of the political class. Isn't that a lovely image?

So why does the military hold such high confidence? The uniformed services are hardly without blemish, and plenty of politically driven rump-sniffers can be found in this institution, as well. Why the elevated trust on the part of the public?

It has something to do with the stakes. The American people understand that military men and women put their lives on the line as a matter of routine. The American people respect courage and sacrifice; professional skill and competence have always been admired by Americans. The public hurts when a flag-draped coffin returns one of our young fallen warriors. My own experience tells me that the Marine officers with whom I served were the most talented, dedicated, unselfish people I've ever known. I sincerely doubt that much has changed there.

The U.S. military has served our Republic well, and has earned the respect of our nation by having paid a considerable price in human life. What do the other institutions have at stake? A pension? A legacy? Enhanced profitability and cash flow?

It seems to me that in this survey, as in most other matters, the American people got it about right.

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