What I've always wondered, reading those polls asking whether the nation is headed in "the right direction," is why anyone with a kindergarten education believes such polls tell us anything worth knowing.
Let's see: the "right direction" as opposed to "the wrong direction"? Doubtless we're always in favor of that. Right direction on what, though? War, peace, the World Series, tomorrow's weather?
Into the impromptu judgments for which pollsters reach, respondents pour a million irritations, satisfactions, itches and hopes. These the pollsters in turn pour over the incumbent president's head -- as if an individual statesman had the power to make life blissful or otherwise for the generality of us.
In other words, let us contemplate with caution the new polls showing George W. Bush in hot water with the sovereign voters.
Behold the price of democracy. It's a universal truth that the demos -- the people -- can change their minds overnight when they happen to be paying attention. Then change them back again. It all depends on what's happening when the question gets asked: Is the country going in the right direction?
A corollary question might be put: When has the country ever gone in just the right direction? That doesn't deal, even so, with the reality that large numbers of Americans profess to be ticked off with George Bush. When you want things to go in the right direction, you hate hearing about Iraqi bombings, winter heating bills, hurricane victims, the New Orleans cleanup, divisions over Harriet Miers, and now, the possibility of a pandemic. Just what we need -- a pandemic.
A lot of the problem has to do with our national training: We not only expect the pursuit of happiness to end in success, but we think when it doesn't it must be the president's fault. Television, with its 60-minute solutions to human difficulties (except, of course, those on "Lost") stokes our impatience. Upon that impatience the Internet works furiously. I have not yet decided whether the omnipresence of bloggers, and of their opinions on everything, contributes to our weal or our vexation. Sometimes it makes sense just to keep quiet and wait for events to shake out instead of declaring dogmatically that thus-and-so is how it is.
Regarding those dreary Bush polls -- Country Going in the Wrong Direction, the prez himself at less than 40 percent support -- I have a single point to make. It is ... well, maybe; and also ... maybe not.
A run of bad luck at the political tables -- too high a stack of chips left too long on red -- wears you down without showing anyone the shape of tomorrow. Hurricane Katrina would have been awful luck for any White House attempting to look crisp and in charge against the forces of nature. Bush just happened to be president: worse, at a time when long national procrastination about dealing with energy was playing hob with gasoline prices. Next the avian flu/pandemic talk. What no Bush foe should count on is an unbroken run of bad luck for the archenemy or arch-dope, whichever they take him for. We may depend on it: Circumstances change. Iraq, with the constitutional election behind and parliamentary elections just head, seems a more and more hopeful place. Prophecies of higher winter fuel prices are unlikely to be frustrated wholly, but there are predictions -- re-enter the luck factor -- of a less-than-terrible winter.
None of which is to tell Bush doubters, "You're out of your mind!" Our present democratic fracas serves the ends of democracy by keeping adrenalin levels elevated -- and reminding politicians never to take our approval for granted.
We also need reminding that, in spite of everything that worries us, the economy remains strong, active enemies cluster mostly in a squalid corner of desert, and the furnaces of democracy and debate still -- obviously -- run full blast.
Give Mr. Bush a little credit. His record isn't half as bleak as vox populi seems to believe -- and his luck looks due for a little change.