On becoming intelligent voters

“Democracy depends on having a sustained conversation about our weaknesses as well as our strengths.” — Rick Shenkman

Historian Rick Shenkman is the author of Just How Stupid Are We?  This quote was taken from the interview in “The Ignorant American Voter” by Bret Schulte , June 3, 2008 (posted today on the DNC website by Sandi:  http://www.democrats.org/page/community/post/PAM/CCNJ).


This particular quote is truly profound.  It encapsulates the very nature of the problem within our country and this party.  We have met the enemy and it is us. 

“I don’t think you can have a democracy without people trusting their government, but if the last half century has shown anything, it’s that healthy skepticism about our leaders is probably warranted, if not a wholehearted cynicism….  What I argue in the book is we have to reform ourselves….  What I argue in the book is we have to reform ourselves.”

Shenkman points out the glaring fact that we have not been a responsible electorate.  As voters, we have been seduced by the superficial campaign slogans and pretty photo ops and 30-second soundbites that do not inform, but rather just spread propaganda.  We chant the slogans and wave our signs with religious fervor (on both sides), but we really do not have a deep understanding on the issues or the policies each candidate has to confront our problems and solve them. 

“What unites us are our ideas, and that creates a far different set of challenges for our democracy than for another democracy in the rest of the world.”

This is what makes our form of government unique.  We were united not by tribe or one leader (monarch or dictator), not by the rule of man, but by ideas and the rule of law.  We forget how unique this was at the time our founders framed the Constitution. 

“We have a vibrant democracy today, and that’s a good thing, but we need to simply acknowledge that the ordinary voter is not as smart as they should be. They are susceptible to manipulation and being conned, and once we admit that, we have to figure out how we can have a country of smarter voters.”

If anyone doubts this passage, then they haven’t been paying attention since 1968.  Starting with the corruption of Nixon and Watergate to the conservative revolution led by Reagan with the illegal Iran-Contra, the HUD scandal and the S&L debacle to the too-numerous-to-mention corrupt activities of GWB, we have seen our democracy erode and our confidence in government — all parts of government — betrayed.  Whether its the politicization of the Justice Department and their illegal litmus test hiring practices or the appointment of U.S. Supreme Court Justices based on ideology rather than judicial temperament, we have reason to mistrust our government. 

But we somehow fail to connect the dots and blame ourselves for this mess.

“My #1 suggestion that is easily implemented is to ask every college student their freshman year to take a current events quiz weekly. I think that would have an enormous effect on the country.”

This is an excellent suggestion we can all put into everyday practice.  Why not give ourselves a quiz every day?  This was the family practice at the Kennedy’s dinner table when Joe, Jack, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Bobby, Jean, and Ted would discuss and argue passionately the issues of the day.  This practice produced three senators and one president.  If it had been today, Eunice certainly would have joined the ranks of the family’s elected officials.

Those of us who have children could incorporate this into our lives in the same way.  Educate ourselves and our children.  An easy solution to a difficult problem.

The Biblical interpretation of the meaning of “authority” was “knowledge.”  This makes a great deal of sense, because knowledge is power.

He who controls the information, controls destiny.  Let’s put ourselves in control of our own destiny by becoming more intelligent voters and citizens.


About Laura Schneider

Retired IT consultant (disabled), musician and animal lover. I support the constitutional concept of Right of Privacy and no discrimination against any person based on race, religion, ideology, gender, sexual preference or disability. I am very concerned about the erosion of our constitutional rights and protections under GWB (and even this administration). I strongly oppose torture, rendition or illegal search and/or seizure (without a warrant) and warrantless wiretapping. I believe that education is our best hope of a bright future for our children. Knowledge is power, and that's the kind of authority (Biblically speaking) that our children must have in order to be successful in a 21st century world.
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