That’s the title of a book I’ve just finished by Rick Shenkman that was written before the November 2008 Presidential election. It’s emphatically clear that from his very first sentence, Shenkman is a flaming liberal Bush-basher.
His book, however, tackles an issue that I’ve blogged about extensively: the sheer stupidity of far too many people who vote. Being the unabashed lefty that Shenkman is, he bases his view and much of the book on the, to him, nauseating fact that George W. Bush was elected not once, but twice.
The inside cover proclaims, and I don’t doubt this one bit, that “Today’s voters are far less equipped than their grandparents were to grapple with the challenges facing the nation, and thus far more susceptible to soothing myths, bumper sticker slogans, and raw emotional appeals.”
Raise the voting age to 35? I swear I could make a case for it.
Shenkman opens with this indictment:
“We regularly call attention to the dumb things our politicians say and do. But who takes the voters to task for their foolishness? Any dolt can make fun of a politician. What if the real problem isn’t with them but with us---or, to be more precise, those among us who exhibit habitual stupidity?”
The myth, as he calls it, of “The People” is the “most dangerous” because of their gross ignorance. The author provides plenty of ammunition as to how brainless Americans have become. For example, only one out of four can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
What constitutes stupidity according to Shenkman? He breaks it down five ways.
1) Sheer ignorance about basic facts: current events, how government works, who’s in charge.
2) Negligence: The disinclination to seek out facts.
3) Wooden-headedness: The inclination to believe what we want to believe, despite the facts.
4) Shortsightedness: Supporting policies that are detrimental to our long-term future.
5) Bone-headedness: Being easily susceptible to phrases, stereotypes, irrational biases.
How stupid are we?
A 2007 report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute revealed that, on average, over 14,000 randomly selected college students at fifty schools around the country scored under 55 out of 100 on a test of basic American civics.
Shenkman is brutal and damning:
“Young people by many measures know less today than young people forty years ago."
“Just 20 percent of young Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 read a daily paper. There’s now ay of knowing what part of the paper they’re reading. It is likelier toe encompass the comics and a quick glance at the front page than dense stories about Somalia or the budget.”
“When one college teacher required a class to listen to NPR for an hour, one student summed up the general reaction to the experience by calling it ‘torture’.” (Having worked at public radio for 11 years, I can vouch that often, that’s a true assessment).
“This generation is less well read than any other since statistics began to be kept.”
I do not disagree that too many of our citizens are just too stupid to vote. Shenkman offers some solutions that I do have problems with.
He believes foundations should finance polls to show just how ignorant Americans are. I think foundations have far better ways to spend their money. Actually, plenty of studies have been done to embarrass voters. Jay Leno’s idiot on the street interviews come to mind. The news media simply needs to keep publicizing our idiocy.
Shenkman says there should be an emphasis on civics in the classroom. But shouldn’t that just be a normal function of American education? Why must there be legislation to force or mandate this instruction? Shouldn’t it be presented naturally?
And here’s a beauty. Shenkman says students should be required to read newspapers. Since they can’t be forced to read anything, current events tests would be required so that students would have to read news sources to be able to pass.
I’m sure a lefty like Shenkman would just love to see liberal indoctrination forced inside classrooms nationwide with students reading one liberal paper after another. Shenkman says not to worry. The kids would have top read the Weekly Standard and National Review, too. Ahhhh, the token conservative publications. What does that break down to? Two out of hundreds?
Shenkman also endorses the establishment of a fund providing federal tuition subsidies if they pass the mandated current events tests. It’s bad enough Shenkman wants to make kids read liberal papers but he wants to tax you to provide the benefits from reading all this lefty material.
Just how stupid does Shenkman think we are?