Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Confidence

The word indicates an inner feeling, but sometimes it is best to parse it. It comes from “trust,” combined with “with,” thus trusting with or trusting X. It seems to me that the X is here the issue. We use the word in relationship to the inanimate ranges of reality of well. We’ll test a knot and say that we are confident that it will hold. But when it comes to complex situations that we cannot actually test, like we can test a knot or a beam, the presence of confidence or lack of it has everything to do with people, with agents. Public confidence in the economy—therefore motivating us to spend or to invest—is not produced by careful observation of a mechanical arrangement but comes from a general “feel,” as it were. And much of that feel comes from the news, the media—alongside talking to other people and observing what they do.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both feature stories this morning that certainly shape public confidence. The NYT headline: HOUSE G.O.P. SETS A NEW OFFENSIVE ON OBAMA GOALS. The Journal’s: RANCOR IN WASHINGTON FANS PUBLIC DISAPPROVAL.

It’s really the same story, although the Times’ focus is on actual planned cuts in budget whereas the Journal concentrates on a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showing public disapproval of Congress—which has reached an all time high of 83 percent.  Obama’s approval rating was low too, 45 percent. The Founding Fathers would here have talked about the evils of faction. That last word comes from the Latin for “a making or doing” used ever since to mean a political party or a class of persons.

Uncertainty breeds lack of confidence and conflict breeds uncertainty. No. We cannot neatly isolate the political from the economic, the personal from the public. Nor can such things as attitude be put in place by Constitutional language. Yet the performance of a democracy absolutely demands that once an administration has been elected by the public, the political conflict that resulted in that outcome must be brought to a halt; unified action must follow. We now have a situation that, were it manifesting in a person, would make that person highly unreliable. He would no sooner start something than try to destroy it, say something then try to unsay it, promise something and then do the opposite. With such a “person” in charge of our country, can we be confident? Civil war comes in many different forms—acute and violent, insidious and undermining. We have the latter, Syria the former. In a forced choice, I’d rather have ours—but in a free choice I don’t want civil war at all.

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