Blessed are the rationally ignorant….

Your humble blogger has repeatedly stressed the theme that when it comes to foreign or economic policy, the U.S. public is rationally ignorant. This does not mean, despite my occasional slip of the pen, that Americans are stupid. It means that they lead busy lives and don’t see the need to read up on arcane policy ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Your humble blogger has repeatedly stressed the theme that when it comes to foreign or economic policy, the U.S. public is rationally ignorant. This does not mean, despite my occasional slip of the pen, that Americans are stupid. It means that they lead busy lives and don't see the need to read up on arcane policy issues that do not appear to affect their daily lives.

One of the awesome upsides of being rationally ignorant is that it allows the voter to reconcile what policy wonks know, in their hearts, is utterly irreconcilable.

Two recent polls of U.S. public opinion reveal this point quite nicely. Pew's latest survey of U.S. attitudes about China reveal deep-seated American anxiety about China's rising economic power, but a desire to strengthen relations. This leads to a headline assessment, "Strengthen Ties with China, but Get Tough on Trade," that is already contradictory.

Your humble blogger has repeatedly stressed the theme that when it comes to foreign or economic policy, the U.S. public is rationally ignorant. This does not mean, despite my occasional slip of the pen, that Americans are stupid. It means that they lead busy lives and don’t see the need to read up on arcane policy issues that do not appear to affect their daily lives.

One of the awesome upsides of being rationally ignorant is that it allows the voter to reconcile what policy wonks know, in their hearts, is utterly irreconcilable.

Two recent polls of U.S. public opinion reveal this point quite nicely. Pew’s latest survey of U.S. attitudes about China reveal deep-seated American anxiety about China’s rising economic power, but a desire to strengthen relations. This leads to a headline assessment, "Strengthen Ties with China, but Get Tough on Trade," that is already contradictory.

Even better, however, is the Reuters/Ipsos survey of American attitudes about the debt ceiling:

The U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes raising the country’s debt limit even though failure to do so could hurt America’s international standing and push up borrowing costs, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

Some 71 percent of those surveyed oppose increasing the borrowing authority, the focus of a brewing political battle over federal spending. Only 18 percent support an increase.…

With the Pentagon fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 51 percent supported cutbacks to military spending.…

Expensive benefit programs that account for nearly half of all federal spending enjoy widespread support, the poll found. Only 20 percent supported paring Social Security retirement benefits while a mere 23 supported cutbacks to the Medicare health-insurance program.

Some 73 percent support scaling back foreign aid and 65 percent support cutting back on tax collection.

How to put this gently… any serious effort to tackle the deficit/debt problem can’t be accomplished without addressing Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and tax reform. So any American who says they don’t want the debt ceiling raised is logically saying, "I want interest rates to skyrocket and massive cuts in Social Security and Medicare."

Except, of course, most Americans are rationally ignorant — so they don’t see these set of beliefs as contradictory.

It’s not a bad way to go through life… unless, of course, you’re the one trying to get the books into balance.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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