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one concerns care in interpreting poll responses in cases of questions which call for a response in which the respondant can reasonably be supposed to be subject to the feeling that a fully candid answer may reflect badly on him-- and this is true even though the interview is usually an 'anonymous' one done by telephone-- that is, even though the respondant is confident that his responses shall be part of an aggregate in which he is anonymous.
My favorite standard example of this problem concerns polls which ask respondants to declare whether or not they believe in God, in Heaven and Hell, in miracles such as the immaculate conception, etc. My view is that in practically every such poll, the results may be safely assumed to under report the actual proportion of people who do believe in the things just listed. That is for a fairly common-sense reason: in answering such questions, there is little or no reason to imagine that those who do not believe in these notions shall reply falsely that they do. On the other hand, there are always some proportion of the public which is reluctant to admit their religious beliefs out of the concern for the impression that would make on the interviewer; thus, in an random telephone poll, they'll report that they do not believe in such things even though in fact they do.
Stating one's opinion on such sensitive questions as whether or not the US--as a people or a government--should be responsible for their actions abroad, and, more importantly, should be liable to be held accountable by some real or potential independent authority is just the sort of question that is liable to elicit false statements of approval or agreement, as in "Yes, I believe the US govt., etc., should be held legally accountable for..." . Again, my hunch is that such polls shall always over-report the number of responses which conform to the socially-accepted and respectable response, thus masking the true number of people who in fact do not hold these respectable opinions.
My second comment concerns the notion of what we are talking about when we speak of "the United States" does, or did, this, that or the other; for all practical purposes, the "United States" really only exist as a present-day collectivity of people. Though that seems obvious, it is not necessarily always what people have in mind when they argue over what the US (or any other nation, for that matter) once did or is now doing, or what they have to been proud or ashamed of.
To illustrate this, many people are proud of what they think of as "their nation" having done in the past. As in, for example, "the US won the Second World War and liberated Europe." Many people easily accept that what some of their forebears did once upon a time is a matter which reflects positively on their own present-day worthiness. They do not, somehow, accept the converse, that the disreputable acts of their forebears should be regarded as reflecting poorly on them--as they disavow any responsibility for such acts of long past generations.
Of course, a nation is, for better or for worse, the sum of its present-day population's acts and beliefs, broadly speaking. It is of no account what some generations of Americans may have done long ago in determining, especially, whether or not "the United States is a democratic nation". It may very well have once been--or, that is, the American people of another time may very well have been more or less "democratic" than are the American people of today. But the only meaningful question is, "What are Americans doing now? Not, "What is the best and most noble thing we can point to about ourselves from the past?" and claim that as exemplary of what "we really are" today.
What we really are today is of course to be determined by what we really are doing (or not) today.
By that measure, we are perhaps not such a free and democratic nation as we may like to believe. But that doesn't prevent people from taking as their ideal of what their nation is, the glorious portions from its most respectable past.
Finally, about the treaty obligations of the US; I had an interesting (to me) discussion with a member at Dailykos on this very topic. I argued that, according to the terms of the US Constitution, when the Senate ratifies a treaty, and the president signs it into law, it becomes the law of the land and has the same force and authority as the various provisions of the US Constitution itself. Not so, replied the other person. As he claimed to know, under a long ago ruling of the US Supreme Court, the provision of the Constitution which makes treaties part of the law of the land along with the federal Constitution, is interpreted as meaning only that the several states of the United States are legally bound to respect the treaty's terms. Interestingly, by the Court's ruling, I learned from this fellow in the Dailykos that the US government--that is the federal government is not bound by any treaty from the moment that said treaty's terms come into conflict with a subsequently passed law of the United States. Thus, apparently, if the US have obligations under the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war, it is the opinion of the Supreme Court, according to this ruling--I've now forgotten which one and can no longer find this exchange in the archives of the Dailykos, sorry-- that those obligations become null and void as soon as the Congress passes and the president signs any legislation to the contrary. All of that came to me as flatly incredible. My view has always been that the treaties were valid and in theory enforcable even if in fact that was not the case; here I learn that, no, all that counts is what the last-passed and enacted laws may say on any given treaty issue.
Amazing! So, I asked the other fellow, "So, tell me, whether or not the Supreme Court's case law is as you've described it to me, do you personally agree that this is how things ought to be ?
At that, he ran out of time to answer and explained that he wouldn't be able to answer. There ended the discussion. I'm really sorry I couldn't link to it.
"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge
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