Our Undiscerning and Ill-informed Electorate

How many times have you heard someone pompously state words to the effect that we must always trust in the good sense and wisdom of the American people because in the end they are always right?  I have heard words similar to these for decades.  It is a part of the mystique and mythology of American culture.  But like so much else in this category, it is nonsense.  The American people do not have an innate common sense and a true understanding of what is best for America.  A frightening percentage would flunk a basic 9th grade civics test and could not name their congressman, senator and in all too many cases the Vice President of the United States.  As the world we live in has continued to grow more complex and the problems more intractable we have been asked to make decisions that few of us are equipped for.  Yet, we must select those who will confront those problems and issues that will shape our future and the future of the world.  After all, our free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy.

If you believe that, in fact, the American people ultimately make the right decisions, then sleep well in the knowledge that our leaders are the most brilliant, selfless, patriotic, knowledgeable and qualified.  However, if you’re like me, your nights have not been quite so peaceful.  After all, it was the wisdom of the American people who gave us Nixon in 1968 and 1972.  They gave us Reagan in 1980 and 1984.  They continued their run with only a brief pause by giving us Bush in 1988 and than the brilliant son in 2000 and 2004.  If you detect a prejudicial pattern in my preferences you are correct.  I do believe that Democratic Presidents have been much better for America and its true values of equality for all Americans in all aspects of life.  We have seen a narrowing of that dream and a reduction of equality and opportunity  every time a Republican gets into the White House.   And after each and every one of those elections I find myself asking the same question: Why do so many people vote against their own self-interest?  Why do they vote for economic policies that are designed to protect the status quo, i.e. keep everyone where they are and make the rich richer?  Why do they vote against the expansion of healthcare, education, and regulations for consumer protection?  These are just a few of the policy areas that come up for discussion at virtually every election.  The fact is that on all of these issues, unless they are in the top rung of the economic ladder, if people vote for the Republican candidate they are voting against their own and their children’s self interest.  They did this seven times in recent history,  and we all paid the price every time.

It is clear that all too often people really don’t understand the issues and the complexities they are faced with.  They listen, at some point in the process, to the voices they trust and without discernment, accept their words as gospel.  They don’t for a moment seek objectivity and impartiality.  They want someone to tell them what to think and how to vote.  Fox, the unofficial propaganda machine of the Republican Party, has somehow assumed that role with a shocking percentage of the American electorate.  These people not only vote against their own self-interest, they don’t even get that they are being told to do exactly that.  It is only through a herculean effort to bring voters to the polls that Obama was able to win in 2008 and 2012. When a voter turnout of only 65% is categorized as a great turnout the problem becomes apparent.  We have in The United States, the birthplace of free and fair elections, an incredibly apathetic and ignorant electorate.  The soundbites, cliches and catch phrases are designed to keep it simple and make it easy.  They have become the currency of a Presidential campaign in the midst of the Information Age.    It is ironic that at a time when more information is available to more people than ever before, people choose the most uninformed manner in which to make such an important decision.  While it may be too late for this cycle, we must work to turn that fact around for the next.  Our democracy depends on an informed and knowledgeable electorate.  We must make sure one exists for the sake of our future and that of our children and grandchildren .


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