In the late 1920s, as Americans became more and more concerned about the effect "talking pictures" might have on impressionable youth, the Payne Fund commissioned a series of studies on the subject. Movies, the researchers reported, put children into an emotional state, affected their sleep patterns, and probably contributed to juvenile delinquency. Among the alarming findings was that movie scenes with erotic themes seemed to make teenagers highly aroused. If you can believe it.
There's a saying about the Republican Party: When they're out of power they argue that government is incompetent and corrupt, and then when they get power they set about to prove it. So failures of government like George W. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina end up as lessons conservatives use to demonstrate not that we need more effective government but that government can't do anything right, and therefore ... we should elect more Republicans. It would be nice if this argument were met with howls of laughter, but it isn't, in large part because of what we tend to remember and what we tend to forget.
For years, hawks have tried to convince us that terrorists, whether affiliated with al-Qaeda or anyone else, are brilliant masterminds of evil with infinite resources who could kill us all at any moment. But once again, we see that actual terrorists tend to be remarkably incompetent. Whoever the guy who tried to blow up an SUV in Times Square was (and there is no evidence yet that he was affiliated with anyone), his knowledge of explosives seems to be about that of the typical sixth-grader. Propane tanks, gasoline canisters, some non-explosive fertilizer (he apparently thought all fertilizer could explode), and firecrackers. Firecrackers?
We all have a tendency to assume that people we don't like have sinister motives underlying their words and actions, and people we do like have good motives. When you're trying to determine what a politician meant when he or she said something that struck you as potentially objectionable, your overall view of them is going to have a lot to do with what conclusion you come to.
I bring this up as context for some criticism Barack Obama is getting over a comment he made discussing the idea of "judicial activism." Let's start with what he actually said:
I've often noted that the changing geographic distribution of immigrants has a lot to do with the "I want my country back!" sentiment that has become so visible in recent months. At one time, if you lived in a suburb or a small town, you were unlikely to encounter people speaking a language other than English very often, if at all. Now that people all over the country see immigrants in their communities, many feel as though something has been taken from them.