Beating around the Bush
Bogus polls are a pain. I'm not talking about those commissioned by politicians and interest groups where the questions are carefully worded to ensure we answer the way they want. I'm talking about the on-line or call-in polls based on unrepresentative self-selected responders. Such surveys are basically worthless and made-to-order for organized groups to skew. (I know because sometimes I do it myself. Once I had Bill Clinton as the “most admired” national figure on a College Republicans website.)
The San Francisco Chronicle has a weekly poll (cleverly titled “The weekly poll”) that hides the shame of its worthlessness behind a tiny fig-leaf in tiny print: “This is not a scientific poll, but a tabulation of readers' responses.” Yesterday's installment drew my attention because of the topic.
The results were derived from 870 responses.
The Chronicle's weekly poll is published amidst the letters to the editor, which is one of my favorite parts of any newspaper. I seldom pay much attention to the poll, but I always see it. This time I paused. Usually I instantly know how I would answer the poll question and it's of no further interest to me, especially since the results are so meaningless. This time, however, I did not know.
Yes, we have too many nukes. Way too many. It would make sense to reduce the stockpile. It would also make sense to replace old warheads with new ones, just to ensure that our weaponry doesn't turn flaky and unreliable. We all remember that Simpsons episode where Sideshow Bob's attempt at nuclear blackmail went tragically awry. He fell for the retro appeal of an old warhead and ended up selecting a dud. Poor Bob!
But questions have contexts and programs do not implement themselves. Would I support a program to replace outdated warheads with new ones if the Bush administration were responsible for it? Never in a million years! (Which is probably not even enough time for the world to clean up the mess the Bushies would make of it.) Even the most prudent and well-advised program to retire old weapons and draw down the stockpile to a smaller number of new devices should not be risked, at least not during the continuing clown show in the White House. Who would be in charge? Rumsfeld, now retired and available, who natters on about known unknowns and unknown unknowns? Rice, the Peter principle personified, who finds it too much trouble to read memos about terrorist threats? Gonzalez, who seems to do nothing at the Justice Department and thus would have time for it; who doesn't know what decisions he's made until the White House briefs him? Former FEMA director Brown, who specializes in doing a “heckuva job”? Cheney, who would probably stash a few extra nukes in an undisclosed location in case he needs them on some future hunting trip with friends?
I think not. Let the dusty old nukes rusticate a few more months until Bush and company have packed their bags and skulked out of D.C. We can stand to wait till some grownups are in charge again. (It's funny how wise and mature the Clinton administration looks in retrospect.)