Dumb and dumber

I notice we're having one of those spates of national concern about how dumb we are. "Nation of Nitwits," "Pervasive Ignorance," fret the pundits.

The latest survey of how dumb we are shows that 60 percent of Americans can't name the president who ordered the first atomic bomb to be dropped, and 25 percent of us don't know that Japan was the target.

One of my favorite national peculiarities is this endearing habit we have of polling ourselves to find out how dumb we are and then moaning about the results. Almost weekly, we get fresh evidence of the national stupidity: 67 percent of us believe Alexis de Tocqueville never should have divorced Blake Carrington. More than 70 percent identify dim sum as the vice premier of China.

I stand with Will Rogers on this issue: "Stupidity got us into this mess; stupidity ought to be able to get us out of it."

This morning, we find Texas short of 10,000 jobs, and the only reason I bring up stupidity is because there does seem to be a certain failure to connect the concept of a balanced budget with loss of jobs.

Let me hasten to assure the afflicted at Texas military facilities on the Pentagon shut-down list that, as our only president would say, "I feel your pain." Yes, we are supposed to regard these closings and "realignments" as an opportunity rather than a disaster, but personally, I think anyone that chipper needs his head examined.

I just want to make the point that those who carry on about "people on the government teat" have sometimes failed to think the matter through clearly.

And, as we move to reinvent government in these exciting times, many of us who consider ourselves fully productive and deserving citizens are going to be unpleasantly surprised.

Farmers, take note.
As we see our fellow citizens demonstrating in protest because their local naval shipyard or Air Force base is being closed, we should keep in mind an observation made by Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Ol' Upton was awful right, as you will notice if you talk to people who work in polluting industries, nuclear bomb factories, and casinos.

One set of folks who will benefit massively from the Republican efforts to reinvent government is lawyers. The Full Employment for Lawyers Act passed last week in the House of Representatives. Also known as the risk-assessment bill, it is another example of the troubling fact that Republicans do not know how to write legislation.

The risk-assessment/cost-analysis proposal theoretically forces all federal regulations for health, safety and the environment to be put through an economic test of risk vs. benefits.

Sort of. The Republicans included exemptions for emergencies and legal deadlines, so that the creation of exempting emergencies will now become a whole new area of law.

The larger question is whether our government should allow our health, our safety, and our environment to be superseded by the claims of private-industry profits. It strikes me as a poisonous idea.

For years, we snickered about the fellow who said that "what's good for General Motors is good for the country." Surely, no one whose paycheck was not at stake believed that, even before Ralph Nader. Is our highest national goal really to see that the Dow keeps going up?

Meanwhile, the Republican Revolution rolls merrily along, improving the nation almost daily. By George, in a country where our worst problems are poverty and violence, you have to admit these R's are certainly drawing a bead right on the old target. No more free school lunches or breakfasts for poor kids--that'll improve things.

No more education for homeless children, and cut or eliminate all job training programs. Yes, indeed, every day in every way, these folks are making our lives better and better, aren't they? This is not to mention the brilliant stroke of cutting funding for public television by 45 percent over two years. We're sleeping more soundly at night already.

Excuse me, but have you noticed that a great deal of the violence in this society is now being perpetrated by juveniles? Not all--but almost all--of them come from backgrounds we euphemistically describe as "economically disadvantaged," right?

In addition, you know that most violent teenagers are victims of violence--physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or combinations thereof. They also suffer from a lack of medical care and good nutrition, and most of them attend disastrously substandard schools. We also suspect, although we have no definitive proof, that they are influenced by the violence they see around them--by violent films like New Jack City, violent video games, and violence on television.

Now, do we think that taking "Sesame Street" off the air is going to make their lives better? Probably not.

Taking away nutritious lunches and breakfasts for them? That one cuts both ways. Conceivably, if we keep them half-starved, they wouldn't have enough energy to commit violent crimes--except for the popular drive-by shootings.

On the other hand, the nutritionists keep telling us that their little brains and bodies don't develop properly without good food, making them both sicker and dumber in the long run--probably not a good idea. They could wind up costing us more in Medicaid if they get sick a lot, but the Republicans are also planning to cut Medicaid, so I guess we don't have to worry about that.

Then, too, after the R's get through cutting housing aid, these kids won't have addresses any longer. If we don't know where they are, we won't be able to count them, and if the government doesn't have any records, they won't exist, will they?

That should take care of the problem of juvenile crime. These Republicans are a lot more visionary than most people give them credit for.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright 1995 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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Molly Ivins