Misleading the happy

David Brooks:

Some elections are defined by the gap between the rich and the poor. Others are defined by the gap between the left and the right. But this election will be shaped by the gap within individual voters themselves — the gap between their private optimism and their public gloom.

American voters are generally happy with their own lives. Eighty-six percent of Americans say they are content with their jobs, according to the General Social Survey. Seventy-six percent of Americans say they are satisfied with their family income, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Sixty-two percent of Americans expect their personal situation to get better over the next five years, according to a Harris Poll, compared with only 7 percent who expect it to get worse.

Researchers from Pew found that 65 percent of Americans are satisfied over all with their own lives — one of the highest rates of personal satisfaction in the world today.

On the other hand, Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about their public institutions. That same Pew survey found that only 25 percent of Americans are satisfied with the state of their nation. That 40-point gap between private and public happiness is the fourth-largest gap in the world — behind only Israel, Mexico and Brazil.

Americans are disillusioned with the president and Congress. Eighty percent of Americans think this Congress has accomplished nothing.

Sixty-eight percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. Sixty-two percent think that when government runs something, it is usually inefficient and wasteful. Sixty percent think the next generation will be worse off than the current one. Americans today are more pessimistic about government’s ability to solve problems than they were in 1974 at the height of Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War.

This happiness gap between the private and the public creates a treacherous political vortex. On the one hand, it means voters are desperate for change. On the other hand, they don’t want a change that will upset the lives they have built for themselves.

...

What this gap demonstrates is the power of the media and the left to mislead people about their circumstances and their neighbors. They have created this artificial pessimism though a relentless assault on the truth about the performance of the economy under the Bush administration as well as an assault on the performance of our national security apparatus in the war being waged against us by Islamic religious bigots.

As we are winning that war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the media has been determined to present an image of defeat. The lobbies for retreat and defeat have been much louder than the voices of reason. Liberals have shamelessly redefined words like lie and disaster to denigrate our efforts. That is what created the gap Brooks talks about.

While he has several suggestions for dealing with the gap, he omits the most important. Tell the people the truth about their circumstances and those who have tried to denigrate them.

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