Now that we're in the brave new world where a majority of Americans think the president is dishonest and incompetent, I'm left wondering how things might have turned out differently if Americans had realized these things a couple years ago.
To be sure, there are some major events like the invasion of Iraq (a.k.a. Operation Awesome Kickass™) that probably never would've gained traction if people hadn't assumed their leaders were telling it to them straight. And the tax cuts might have gone differently, but I think the American people's willingness to be bribed -- "I get a check for $300! That's all I needs to hear!" -- would've pushed that through no matter how obvious it was that Bush was selling snake-oil.
But I'm thinking more and more about an event that's completely disappeared down the memory hole -- the 2003 blackout.
Anyone else remember that? The largest blackout in North American history? It affected a quarter of the country, sending over 50 million Americans and some 10 million Canadians into darkness, and cost businesses about $6 billion dollars in losses. Remember now?
Obviously, a key factor in our nation's collective blackout about the blackout was the timing of it all. Because it happened almost exactly at the peak of public support for the war in Iraq, the media was wrapped up in its embedded love affair with the administration. When reporters gazed lovingly in the administration's sweet, sultry eyes, they could see no wrong.
To be sure, there were plenty of question marks that the media just let go. Republicans initially blamed Canada, but it turned out to be a problem in Ohio. And when the structural problems behind the blackout first became known, there was little outrage at the federal regulators responsible for keeping an eye on things. We should've seen an investigation into FERC along the lines of what we're seeing with FEMA these days, but the agency got a free pass.
And in a larger sense, when you have an administration that's in bed with energy companies, especially the one that actually caused rolling blackouts in California, doesn't it make sense to probe a little? Maybe see if the complete collapse of a quarter of this nation's electrical grid was in any way the result of this administration letting its energy buddies police themselves?
None of these issues were really asked in a serious and persistent way. Once the power was restored, the media and the public pretty much let the matter drop. I can't imagine that the outcome would've been the same if the blackout had come later, especially if it had come in the wake of Katrina. The media would've pressed to know why it happened, why they shifted the blame, and, most important, what this revealed about the Bush-Cheney connections to the Enron crowd. They would've, you know, done their job.