Saturday, December 20, 2008

Overview of the Bush Presidency

For those interested in such things the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press have conducted a very thorough survey of public opinion on the Bush presidency. The results are discussed here.

One of the things that strikes me as peculiar about the survey is the number of people who refuse to credit Bush policies with having kept us safe from a second terror attack after 9/11. Fully 50% of Democrats said that Bush policies either did not do much or did nothing at all to protect us from terrorist attacks. I wonder what reason these people would give for why we haven't been hit again. Do they think that the Islamist extremists have just lost interest?

Another oddity is that in late April 2008, just 37% expressed a favorable view of the federal government, about half of the percentage of five years earlier, and yet by comfortable margins we elected to office the party most likely to give us a lot more federal government. Go figure.

One more thought on the survey. I think it almost politically impossible that Bush could be a popular president because to achieve popularity one has to be either a consistent conservative or a consistent liberal. Bush was neither. He was hated by liberals despite the fact that he did more to advance liberal ideas on helping the poor and oppressed and expanding government programs than did any Democrat president since FDR. Yet the left despised him because of the war and perhaps because of his Supreme Court appointments. Conservatives supported him for precisely those two reasons (plus his tax cuts) but were dismayed by all the things liberals should love him for. Consequently, because he did too much that people in both groups disliked, and because he did such a poor job of selling and defending his policies, few people on either side think of him as a good president.

Anyway, there's lots of data in the report to ponder and pore over. Most of the country, not surprisingly, thinks that Bush will be remembered as a bad president. Despite my frustration with some of what he hasn't done, I just don't see this, but time will tell.


Lost Opportunity

By now most readers will have heard of the sign placed by atheists next to a Nativity scene outside the legislative building in Olympia, Washington on which appeared this statement:

"At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Okay. It seemed a little rude, perhaps, to place it next to a Nativity scene, but what's noteworthy about it isn't so much the message, but the reaction to it. People are outraged. They're calling the sign "hateful." They demanded that the governor of Washington have it removed. Somebody even stole it.

I think all of this suggests an insecurity concerning the beliefs of those who are miffed by the sign, and, maybe more importantly, it squanders an opportunity. Those who erected the sign are, no doubt inadvertently, offering Christians an opening to engage in a dialogue on the merits of the claims made on the sign and to show the public that each of them is either false or at least a matter of the atheist's own faith commitment to naturalism.

I think it would be wonderful if intelligent Christians posted themselves by the sign and invited passersby to consider what the world would be like were those claims widely believed to be true and engage skeptics in polite dialogue about them. Christians should use the sign as a springboard for writing well-reasoned pieces to the local papers explaining the evidence for God's existence and how Christianity, so far from being an enslaving force, has been a force for liberation throughout history, how so far from hardening hearts, it has been the greatest source of compassionate outreach to the poor, the sick and the oppressed throughout the last two thousand years. Instead of demanding that the atheists be denied the freedom to express their views Christians should seize the opportunity to show the intellectual superiority of their own view and the inadequacies of the atheist position.

Unfortunately, this takes confidence, learning, and effort so perhaps it's easier to simply demand that the other side just shut up. At least that's what a lot of people have chosen to do, and a good opportunity to defend the faith has been allowed to slip away.


Defeating the IED

American war casualties have not been much in the news lately due largely to a massive drop-off in the effectiveness of the insurgents' favorite weapon, the improvised explosive device (IED). A couple of articles at Strategy Page explain how coalition forces have managed to neutralize this devastating killer in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It turns out that it's being done largely by guys sitting at computers doing something called pattern analysis. You can read about it here and here.