And the Beat Goes On…

Frank Bruni’s Op Ed in yesterday’s New York Times reinforces a theme that has become all too common on this blog–a lament, really. He titled it “America the Clueless.”

Did you know (I didn’t) that despite the incredible amount of media devoted to “Obamacare” over the past few years, that forty percent of Americans don’t know it’s a law?

Some think it’s been repealed by Congress. Some think it’s been overturned by the Supreme Court. A few probably think it’s been vaporized and replaced with a galactic edict beamed down from one of Saturn’s moons. With Americans you never know.

Sixty-five percent of us can’t name a single Supreme Court Justice. Twenty-one percent believe that UFO really did crash in Roswell, and that the government has been covering it up ever since. As Bruni says, “That we Americans are out to lunch isn’t news. But every once in a while a fresh factoid like the Obamacare ignorance comes along to remind us that we’re out to breakfast and dinner as well. ”

As Bruni points out, engagement doesn’t necessarily correlate with information–just because someone is heavily involved in the political process is no guarantee that he or she possesses actual knowledge about the process or even the particular campaign or issue with which they are involved.

In 2010 in California, I covered a Tea Party rally at which Carly Fiorina, vying for the Republican nomination for a United States Senate seat, was scheduled to speak. I approached a couple whose profusion of hats and buttons and handmade signs — along with their willingness to spend hours in a crowded field under a punishing sun — led me to believe that they were at least somewhat politically engaged. I asked them if they were inclined to support Fiorina. With great seriousness, they said that they hadn’t yet decided between her and Meg Whitman. Whitman was running not for senator but for governor, in a race that hardly wanted for coverage. They didn’t have to choose.

My absolute favorite “factoid” from Bruni’s compendium, however, was this:

Months later a different poll asked voters about President Obama’s religious affiliation, persistently mistaken by some Americans to be Muslim. The good news? The share of voters making the Muslim error had dropped, to 10 percent. The weird news? Eighteen percent said Obama was Jewish.

I guess this answers my repeated question about how people like Louis Gohmert, Michelle Bachmann, Paul Broun et al get elected.

And speaking of religion, I have a favor to ask of those of you who pray. Would you please pray for a more enlightened, more rational America?


  1. I pray daily for President Obama and his family; that they will be safe always. I then pray for the entire government on all levels, that it will begin working for the country and the people and stop working for themselves and for more money. Hasn’t done one bit of good regarding the government, as evidenced by Pence’s recent bill signing and the idiocy you refer to, but I will maintain my feeble efforts.

  2. All true. I sure wish the folks in congress could or would help some with getting info out about the Affordable Health Care Act. I have written and called our congressman. My question was HOW does a small business or single person make use of the new law? Can they provide some guidance? The silence was deafening. And this was a “D”. I was TRYING to learn. No help available so far. Indiana has decided to vaporize ICHIA (The Indiana health care provider of last resort) on 12-31-13. I have NO idea what to do after that. ICHIA costs me 14,400 / year for my personal coverage. Not a great value but when it goes away, then what? Sometimes we need a little help from our elected reps to know what is going on.

  3. Ignorance in one area is correlated with ignorance in other areas. When the public has strange ideas about science, and no apparent knowledge of history or government, they are more easily manipulated by fear and demagoguery because they don’t have the knowledge base to combat it. Viral email reality distortions presented as fact feeds a voracious appetite for lurid conspiracy, along with yellow media, consolidating and solidifying fear and ignorance, and eliminating any solid information that previously existed. Instead of becoming confident masters of reality, people willingly make themselves into victims. They give themselves as slaves to the demagogues, forgetting that America is an experiment that depends on informed and curious citizens whose activities and votes are evidence-based, not based on fear and greed. That takes some intellectual work, but many are not inclined to work. No wonder people are clueless, yet think that information is irrelevant when told that a law is unconstitutional, when shown hard data that proves that a deluded perception is just that. This tells us that the “great American experiment” is not going well.

  4. And this quote from Thomas Jefferson succinctly describes our difficulty: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

  5. And we thought that the Flat-Earth Society was just a couple dozen real oddballs huddled over in a corner somewhere. NOT! Their numbers are growing every day, right along with their cluelessness. We’re in a world of hurt here.

  6. The lack of knowledge is a strong basis for many political and personal probems in this country; the inertia that keeps one from seeking knowledge compounds the problem. Add to that the total lack of guts to support what you know is right and the best for the majority – evidenced by Pence having misgivings about the bill he signed which gives Ballard too much power – and we find ourselves at the bottom of the hill with that smelly brown stuff rolling down on us. We are moving backwards at a higher and higher rate of speed and wondering what is happening to this country and why. I believe too many people like Bachman. Gohmert, Broun and Sanford get elected because their names are famiiar to voters who are clueless as to what is going on around them and aren’t interested in seeking information…it is much easier to vote for the name you have heard before.

  7. I don’t remember seeing any guarantees that the American Experiment would succeed. In the end, the historians will tell the story about why everything flopped, and those names will be there under “Demagogues That Kept the Ball Rolling Toward the Cliff” in the chapter, “They Elect the Government They Deserve”. I suspect that the writer will be Scandinavian, one of those “godless socialist” types.

  8. Unfortunately, despite the plethora of information available these days, Winston Churchill’s quote seems to transcend time.

    “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

  9. Hats off to S. Swenson for reminding us of Jefferson’s quote.
    It’s one of my favorites and so applicable.

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