Inside the numbers

Posted: Oct 28, 2003 12:00 AM

These days it seems there is no room at the inn for Americans who choose to view public issues on a case-by-case basis, without pre-conceived policy or political prejudices. And that's too bad because there are a lot of us, wanting (and needing) to be heard.

Here's how we feel on some key issues:

On George W. Bush: Many of us believe he is president because his father was. But then John F. Kennedy probably reached the White House largely because of his powerful dad's willingness to buy power. I see little difference between the two.

Overall we believe the president has performed well in tackling problems unique to his time in office -- an inherited economic house of cards and a new era of physical threats to the U.S. homeland. We figure his tax cuts have stimulated the economy, but we're iffy on the rest of his domestic political agenda, or lack of it. Still, we look at the field of Democratic presidential challengers and gauge them either unelectable, too liberal or both.

On Iraq: Some of us believe there was probably a rush to persuade the world that weapons of mass destruction were an immediately gathering danger. Smoking-gun evidence may never be found. But we are also weary of the media's fixation on the "circumstantial" nature of the U.S. case to the world. Isn't most evidence in courts of law circumstantial? And aren't most news reports pieced together with anecdote, opinion and sometimes disconnected facts? Isn't that circumstantial?

We're glad the world is rid of Saddam Hussein, but we still seek an honorable and workable escape from Iraq. We would also smile on a plan to convert Iraq's growing oil revenues into a payback for U.S. efforts to liberate that nation. The U.S. already gives away plenty of tax proceeds across the globe. Why not loan Iraq money against future oil proceeds?

On the media: We still believe the press has a liberal bias. But we also recognize that even some moderates and conservatives are getting tired of the countervailing, prototypical right-wing talk shows. Some of these news-talk heroes are getting too flush with bravado and self-esteem. We would watch more "straight news" TV broadcasts, but these producers and anchors are trapped in their self-regulated kingdom of effete snobbery. The end result for viewers is plain old boredom.

On mass entertainment: There is a group of us who can't abide the popularity of hip hop music or stilted TV shows like "The Bachelor," and still haven't quite gotten a feel for NASCAR. We like college football, even though we know it's really semi-pro. We tolerate the NFL and Major League Baseball, but we can't figure out why anyone would watch anything but the last two minutes of an NBA game, when the games are almost always decided.

Those of us trapped in this apparent no-man's land of culture often frown upon abortion, but privately wonder what we would do if our teen-aged daughter got pregnant. We believe people have the right to own handguns, but we fret that the weapons can't seem to be kept out of the hands of deluded teens and committed killers. We see little reason to obsess over the posting of the Ten Commandments in courthouses because too few people so much as notice them, even as they walk right past. So why not just leave them in place? We can't understand why someone would oppose the death penalty but have no problem imposing a similar "death penalty" on a woman in a vegetative state by depriving her of intravenous nutrition.

And yes, we can hold paradoxical views. We believe Alaskans should be allowed to drill for oil in their state, but we also yearn for laws to curb the growth of population and industry. Call us the semi-environmentalists. We are annoyed to hear about people boycotting a chicken shack for "animal cruelty" or food manufacturers for producing fatty but tasty foodstuffs.

The fact is, there are millions of Americans who don't fit the mold -- any mold. We're contradictory and hard to categorize. Many are dismissive of our views because they find them boring and not strident enough.

Is it wishy-washy to analyze and scrutinize before forming an opinion? More importantly, must every opinion always fall in the neat categories of liberal or conservative? Perhaps there are more of us than meets the eye. Maybe enough to influence matters as important as elections and media ratings.

And by the way: We're not always frustrated. After all, the Yankees just lost the World Series!