Monday, December 11, 2006

No Reaction to ISG in These Quarters: What Does That Mean?

Sometimes, when a big news event hits, I make a deliberate decision not to mention it as I daily interact with people. That way, I have some notion of how important the event is to folks and I get a truer fix on what they're thinking.

It's an unscientific approach. But, I can be certain that whatever opinions people may express, they haven't been prompted into spouting them by me; they're broaching a topic that's important to them.

The Baker-Hamilton Commission, with lots of focus from Big Media, released its report last week. With all the attention the report received, seventy-nine recommendations and all, I expected many of the people I spoke with in my community to have been abuzz about it. (I live in a suburban-small town-rural area east of Cincinnati.)

But here are the results of my passive surveying...
During telephone conversations and visits: 0
Before or after our Saturday and Sunday worship: 0
Before or after our Sunday Morning Lectionary Study: 0
Before or after the Boys and Girls Club Annual Meeting: 0
People talked with me about lots of things this week: personal issues, charitable giving, Christmas travel, helping kids and older folks, the Bengals, Troy Smith's Heisman Trophy prospects and eventual win. Yesterday, when our youth and I went Christmas caroling at a nearby nursing home, one of the elderly people in craft group did mention the war in Iraq, expressing condemnation for it--as most of the elderly I know do. But nobody said a peep about the Baker-Hamilton Commission report.

In what may be the most telling indication of how people in these parts are not responding to the report, yesterday when I needed to make a sweep through our local Sam's Club yesterday afternoon, my quick recon of the Book Department determined that the printed/bound edition of it wasn't being sold there. That surprised me because the 9/11 Commission's report was sold at Sam's and appeared to sell briskly. If Sam's, the most adept identifiers of public trends in the US today, hadn't bothered stocking the report, it must indicate a yawning indifference to it on the part of most Americans.

So, what does all of this mean? I'm not sure. But a few possibilities...

1. People are busy. They're getting ready for Christmas and other holidays, after all. All my family and friends in retail tell me that the malls are packed and that people are buying briskly.

2. Maybe the sheer number of recommendations in the ISG report prevents people from focusing. If the panel had offered five recommendations, rather than almost eighty, people might be talking more. As it is, grappling with it is a bit like trying to shake hands with an octopus. Of course, the commission members would argue that when dealing with an issue of the magnitude of the war in Iraq, it's not possible to distill recommendations down to memorable sound bites.

3. People are as perplexed by the war as everybody in Washington appears to be. They're frustrated by the war, whether they support it or oppose it. (And most people in these parts seem to support the war, although they want to get it over with.) They don't know what the right "way forward" might be and they're not sure if the Baker-Hamilton team knows either. Maybe folks feel that Baker-Hamilton hasn't really said anything new.

None of this has anything to do with my personal opinion. I think that Baker-Hamilton is important. My guess is that if I were to actually ask people around here what they would think, they would deem the report strong on diagnosis, but weak on prescription. And that would be no slam. People seem to feel that no prescription is going to work. And that may be the big reason nobody says anything about Baker-Hamilton: They fear nothing will work.

All I know for sure is that if the non-response to the report evidenced by people around here is echoed in most of the rest of the country, it's not likely to have the impact that the distinguished panel who presented it would like it to have.

[THANKS TO: Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice for linking to this post.]

[NOTE: This piece was cross-posted at]

[THANKS TO: Mark Olson of Blogwatch for linking to this post. Mark also linked to it at his personal blog site, Psuedo-Polymath.]


Anonymous said...

As brilliant and brilliantly nuanced as this highly academic report seems to be, it likely will hardly matter, except as a small footnote to history.

It was a pre-sound byte old-style report prepared by a handful of retirees that most members of our country's population hardly remember... or never heard of.

The style of conducting and communicating our country's business was irrevocably changed by our last two presidents. I believe that every member of the ISG was older than either Clinton or Bush.

Sandra Day O'Connor may be the exception to some of these words, but Supreme Court Justices are the epitome of Ivory Tower academics.

I look at our adult children and their spouses, all in their 20s and early 30s. This report barely caused a ripple in their world... if at all. It doesn't speak their language or concerns, and it certainly doesn't speak to their expectations of quick-reading, easily digested answers and fast-track solutions.

And it doesn't speak to their hearts.

Mark Daniels said...

Interesting comments. Thanks for being such a faithful reader.

Blessings in Christ,