opinion web
Conservative Opinion General Opinion
Mark Shields
Mark Shields
2 Aug 2014
Nixon's 'Gift'

The U.S. Supreme Court, including former President Richard Nixon's own appointees, ruled 8-0 that Nixon must … Read More.

26 Jul 2014
Guns in the Workplace, NOT for Pro-Gun Politicians

Its official title is the "Safe Carry Protection Act," and when it was signed by Georgia's Republican Gov. … Read More.

19 Jul 2014
Nobody Asked Me, but ...

From time to time, the late New York sports-writing legend Jimmy Cannon used to do a column composed of witty,… Read More.

A Poll Apart


A long time ago, maybe in the first Eisenhower administration, my precinct committeewoman taught me the unchanging rules of how to respond to public opinion polls. If the polls show your candidate trailing badly, then simply attack polls and anyone who blindly follows them: "I will always be grateful, as an American, that at Valley Forge, Gen. George Washington did not take any polls. If he had, you and I would still be bowing and curtseying before everyone in the British royal family."

But if the polls instead show your side with a big lead, just acknowledge, with humility, the results: "A poll, of course, is nothing more than a snapshot in time. These numbers, while encouraging, will just make us work harder to earn the support of the hardworking Americans we seek to serve." You know the drill.

But once in a while, a poll appears for which the rehearsed rebuttals do not work and to which one must pay attention. That brings us directly to the August NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. True, we have seen similar numbers before: Americans give failing grades to Congress, both political parties (yes, Republicans worse than Democrats), the president and Wall Street. Not much new there. But the real casualty in this respected survey conducted by Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff is not any politician or profession; it is that American optimism is now on life support.

Think about it. We are Americans who grew up believing there would be a happy ending, that the underdog — for whom Americans almost invariably root — could topple the bigger, stronger opponent. If you remove optimism from the American DNA, then the U.S. becomes little more than a continental Belgium. No disrespect intended to anyone from Brussels, but there are not people at this moment working, saving, dreaming, scheming and praying on how to get to Belgium.

The poll asked people which of the following statements comes closer to their view: "The United States is a country where anyone, regardless of their background, can work hard, succeed and be comfortable financially" or "The widening gap between the incomes of the wealthy and everyone else is undermining the idea that every American has the opportunity to move up to a better standard of living." A majority (54 percent) — including 61 percent of American women — chose the "widening gap undermining opportunity" answer, and just 44 percent of all voters and 34 percent of independents picked the "anyone can succeed" option.

"Do you feel confident that life for our children's generation will be better than it has been for us?" More than three out of four of us — 76 percent — predict a less bright future for our children.

More than seven out of 10 say the recession had an impact on them either "a lot" or "some." And for 40 percent — which represents approximately 126 million Americans — someone in their household lost a job in the last five years. The Great Recession may be over, according to economists' graphs, but for too many of our neighbors, it remains an open wound.

When we are optimistic, we are more generous in our public policy. If the economic pie is going to get bigger, then we welcome more to the table to share. This was the case in the 1960s, when Americans, during a decade when the U.S.'s gross domestic product doubled, had the courage and the confidence to correct the nation's original sin of racial segregation. During the 21st century, when Americans' median household income has continued to decline, we have failed on immigration.

Without optimism and the confidence and courage that it inspires, the U.S. would be, sadly, a much different and less special place.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




2 Comments | Post Comment
Just saw Mark and David Brooks pretty much dodge the ball on the News Hour tonight. David agreed he was wrong about supporting the Iraq invasion (and boy was he--that has to be one of the greatest war crimes this country has committed in its entire history), and Mark kind of said "nyanya."

Mark hinted but did not really nail it. We broke that country. You broke it, you bought it. We set the stage for the carnage and chaos we now see there. We were not right to invade them in the first place, but since we did, and we totally wrecked the entire system, we are obligated to fix it. Troops and all, in my opinion.

This is the kind of crap we do over and over again. We go in, whack the hornets nest, seek converts with a bunch of rhetorical crap, and then pull out and abandon them in their moment of need.

It's not politically popular, but we have obligation to clean up the mess we created. That garbage line "it's now up to the Iraqis" is the most hypocritical piece of BS I have ever heard in my life.

Obama does not need to worry about getting re-elected. He does need to face up to God and the fact that God gave him a spine. He needs to step up and do the right thing. Every Iraqi that gets murdered now has been murdered by the U.S. unless we do what is needed to stop it. Saddam Hussein is starting to look just about like a saint when you consider what has followed since his head was lopped off.

I'm sure the wise idiots Cheney and Bush would attempt to glue it back on if they could.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Masako
Fri Aug 8, 2014 6:53 PM
Sir;... Where is the rare individual in America that would not fawn and bow before the Royals of England... It is disgusting, and I understand it... When ones current forms are failing, as ours so clearly are now, whether it is religion or royalty there are always that number wormy, and fearful of the future; ready to wrap the past around themselves like sod...This sort of nostalgia is serious poison, and no matter what sort of hell history teaches was the past; with every cold snap, people want to turn back progress and live in the warmth of false memory... Was it so good??? Was life ever good at all???
I once heared a woman candidate for vice president, a socialist who was certainly intelligent -thank the women of the SLP for a meal fit for kings and queens... I thought it would have been better if they had served kings and queens cooked to a turn, with apples in their mouths...Why do we have kings and queens... Why do we adore those we with great bloodshed and pain once fought for our freedom??? Why do we put up with any of the rich who are royalty with royal privilages when the lives we so much admire them in living are lives they have stolen from our hours...
I don't mind the fact that so many are beginning to realize what a busted deal American Democracy Royal Style has been; but I do mind that so many would revert out of pure stupidity to living under those people who have clearly stolen the whole of the commonwealth from us...For every person who wants a democracy, who has cared enough to educate themselves about what a democracy really demands of people, there must be ten who do not want democracy, and want their only concerns to be physical survival...I would be happy to vote government out of my life if that did no mean voting it out of existence, and worse, making it totally powerless against the rich...
Look Sir;... When a gang of criminals can run us into a war, and an open ended commitment with a bare majority garnered by lies; and can walk the earth unmolested after all the facts become clear, it is more than clear that we have no democracy worth the name... Do you like being dragged into some immoral affair only about oil and ending the life of one who thumbed his nose at us??? I hate being used, and I hate being made to look like a stupid ass by people who are really stupid, and really are asses... These republican criminals hurt America, and now we are going to see how much they have hurt innocent and defensless people... Who messes with settled issues in foreign lands just to break up their stuff and steal what they cannot defend??? Sure; Saddam Hussein offered an excuse; but it was an insufficient excuse considering how many people they killed out of pure avarice... Why did they not just steal the money from our people, and run up the debt with a conduit for money into their own personal accounts??? Instead, when the reason was our wealth as much as theirs; they killed many thousands of people including thousands of our own- for nothing... Who are these people, and why do these criminals walk the earth uncondemned... There is no better defense of the immorality of the republicans than that they would protect, and worse, accept such inhuman animals in their midst...
Save your polls... They tell nothing new... This people is hopeless and growing more hopeless... There is nothing in hopelessness that augurs change... Hopeless people bray like jackasses, and do as they must, suffering their burden to avoid a beating... Have you ever seen a kid rased by a slap happy dad, resentful, with lowered gaze, and eyes ever alart for an incoming blow... That is what this country is: Angry, sullen, spiteful, resentful...People can't ever say they want justice, and let it go at that... If they have done well at all, they fear justice as much as more injustice... The idea that they must want these frustrating lives because others certainly want them when they are so without hope and every day more mean simply does not seem natural...I do not think the self hatred, the hatred of other Americans is all that natural to people either...I think, if set in a room, in a tavern, on a jobsite, in a church with any foreign people that they would be warm and welcoming; and yet as an abstraction they are all for blood... This violence is not foreign to us; but it is still out of the character we would choose; our ideal self image...
Clearly people are not turned into monsters over night or they would be repelled by their reflections... They simply wake up one day and realize poverty is staring them in the face, and they are lving with a whole lot less than they ever thought they might, and they hurt, and want to hurt whom ever can be set up as responsible...
I would be the first to ask why we must mess with people who have their own issues already settled when the price of unsettling all their issues is so high... People think without good reason that things will get better as the U.S. flexes its imperial muscle... In fact, failure in empire no matter how certainly obvious before the fact- has weakened and divided us against ourselves... It is not war that unites people... No moral people will accept an unjust war... Instead, it is defense that unites people; but then, people need to feel they have something to defend...
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Aug 8, 2014 8:31 PM
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right: comments policy
Mark Shields
Aug. `14
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Jamie Stiehm
Jamie StiehmUpdated 29 Aug 2014
David Sirota
David SirotaUpdated 29 Aug 2014
Jill Lawrence
Jill LawrenceUpdated 28 Aug 2014

15 Mar 2008 One Solution to the Florida-Michigan Dilemma

27 Sep 2013 No More 'Munich'

17 Apr 2010 Heretics or Converts: Democrats Better Decide