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We get the government we deserve
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, April 24, 2007

One of the things the founders of this country believed would protect our form of government was a well-informed electorate.

But, as Jonah Goldberg points out, that dream, like so many others, simply hasn't panned out:
Huge numbers of Americans don't know jack about their government or politics. According to a Pew Research Center survey released last week, 31% of Americans don't know who the vice president is, fewer than half are aware that Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House, a mere 29% can identify "Scooter" Libby as the convicted former chief of staff of the vice president, and only 15% can name Harry Reid when asked who is the Senate majority leader.
Now, of course, many would argue that you don't necessarily have to know the names of the players to enjoy a baseball game. Well, ok, but knowing the rules of the game and how it is played would seem a prerequisite, wouldn't you think?
Though examples are depressingly unnecessary, here are two of my favorites over the years. In 1987, 45% of adult respondents to one survey answered that the phrase "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" was in the Constitution (in fact, it's a quote from Karl Marx). Then, in 1991, an American Bar Assn. study reported that a third of Americans did not know what the Bill of Rights was.
And there's nothing to suggest that those numbers and trends aren't still current. That's pretty depressing, but it certainly helps explain why inroads against liberty and assaults on economic freedom seem to play well in America.

It is also a very pointed indictment of our system of education and what it has become. I talked previously about the transmission of culture being one of its primary responsibilities. The numbers Goldberg quotes indicate a very unsuccessful transmission of our basic beliefs and values if you have 45% believing a Marxist quote to be a part of our founding legal document. It demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of our founding principles. Ironically, however, I'd bet we'd probably find that most people in that survey don't know who Marx was either.

Naturally all of us who hang out on this blog and other political blogs tend to be political junkies, but it is discouraging to see so many people give politics and their impact so little importance in their lives. The political ignorance of the country is and continues to be appalling.

Goldberg goes on, then, to make a very interesting point, given all of these polls about the abject ignorance of most of our fellow citizens:
Also last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans believe that Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales' firing of eight U.S. attorneys was "politically motivated."

So, we are supposed to believe that two-thirds of Americans have studied the details of the U.S. attorney firings and come to an informed conclusion that they were politically motivated — even when Senate Democrats agree that there is no actual evidence that Gonzales did anything improper. Are these the same people who couldn't pick Pelosi out of a lineup? Or the 85% who couldn't name the Senate majority leader? Are we to imagine that the 31% of the electorate who still — after seven years of headlines and demonization — can't identify the vice president of the United States nonetheless have a studied opinion on the firing of New Mexico U.S. Atty. David Iglesias?
No, but what you can believe is the coverage given this event has obviously been such that 2/3'ds of Americans couldn't avoid the news or the intended conclusion they were to draw from that news. As Goldberg points out, that's not a defense of Gonzales who he says should have hit the road long ago. Instead it is an interesting demonstration of the power of the press in shaping public opinion, even a public that for the most part can't even name the VP or who don't understand the game in question or how it is played.

So, on the one hand, you have poor transmission of culture through a failing education system and on the other, a press which can and does shape public opinion even if the public doesn't, for the most part, understand the fundamentals of the system. Given that, it should come as no surprise to any of us that we have the government we have, the "beauty contest" elections we conduct nor the seemingly unstoppable growth government continues to enjoy. To me the only remaining question is have we reached the point of no return, or is there still time to try to turn it around?
 
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Who are you going to believe? Those facist, racist, classist & slave-holding Founders...or a college kid wearing a Che T-shirt and quoting Chomsky? I think we all know who has more weight today...
 
Written By: Xwing
URL: http://
Interesting that you posted this now. I just finished a paper for an applied criminology course in which I cited the following two quotations from Jefferson:

Of all the views of this law [for public education], none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people safe as they are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty.
—Notes on Virginia, 1782.

If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.
— to Joseph C. Cabell, 1818.

I swear, that guy had everything figured out 250 years ago.
 
Written By: Vermin
URL: http://
"have we reached the point of no return or is there still time to try to turn it around?"

We passed the point of no return long ago, when "but it’s for the chiiiiiiilllllldreennnn!" and "if it saves only one life, then it’s worth it!" were, instead of being laughed down as the last desperate screeches of intellectually bankrupt bullies, accepted as paramount reasons for curtailing liberty in the name of public policy.

It makes me glad I’m childless. The PC-hobbled, bread and circuses, freedom-starved world of your grandchildren will make 1984 look like the Garden of Earthly Delights.
 
Written By: Christopher
URL: http://
I suspect that if you look at the culture of the professors of education, you will find that their culture is being transmitted quite well via the education system. And if you look at the culture of the professors of journalism, that their culture is being transmitted quite well by the MSM.

It’s just that their culture is more akin to Marxism than to the Enlightenment on which the US was based.

Homeschooling is a fine answer.
 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
This has always been that case and will always be the case. Politics isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. How many people in the colonies in 1775 do you think could have told you about Lord North or John Wilkes?
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
Thank you for posting this, McQ. I was participating in a debate (if you can call it that when it’s so one-sided) on gun control on an online group. The half of the pro-gun-control posters that weren’t foreigners telling us what to do, were people who said things like "I feel that our country could pass a law banning guns and I don’t know why they don’t just do that and prevent all future shootings that way." When I pointed out to them that no, actually our country couldn’t do that, they still seemed to think their feeling that it could be done was sufficient to allow it to be done, if only "we" (whoever "we" are) would quit giving so much power to the NRA. This clears up how so many of my fellow Americans could be so ignorant of the political facts.
 
Written By: Wacky Hermit
URL: http://organicbabyfarm.blogspot.com
Naturally all of us who hang out on this blog and other political blogs tend to be political junkies, but it is discouraging to see so many people give politics and their impact so little importance in their lives. The political ignorance of the country is and continues to be appalling.
The recent Matt Stoller essay on taxes that Dale deconstructed here at Q and O proves that even some political junkies do not understand the the political philosophies upon which this country was founded.
 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
Remarkable that the column and the commentary about the column without mentioning the twice-elected GWB.

This site is a parody, no?
 
Written By: SavageView
URL: http://
Though examples are depressingly unnecessary, here are two of my favorites over the years. In 1987, 45% of adult respondents to one survey answered that the phrase "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" was in the Constitution (in fact, it’s a quote from Karl Marx
What do you expect from Hillary voters "we’re going to take things away from you for the common good"
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Their beachhead is Maryland, which was the first to approve an interstate compact promising its electors to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote.
Ok, hold the phone.....WHAT?!?
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
I feel moved to rise to call attention to the fact that liberal think tanks developed the concept of the Liberal Narrative to appeal to those who did not care to take the time to inform themselves sufficiently to be able to form their own political philosophy and opinions.
Their masterstroke was in realizing that the Narrative had to appeal not just to the ignorant masses, but to very intelligent people as well. The keynote is, as stated in the quotes in the post, to just avoid facts when they get in the way of a concise and easily understood narrative.
How to cover for these missing facts? Get people who actually know better to develop narratives that are easy to understand and which appeal to our desire to never do wrong or hurt anyone for any reason. Deny that anything complex is going on - "We just need to have multiculturalism and PC, etc., and everyone will sing Kumbaya and get along. There is plenty of money to allow government to solve all problems if we can just get the rich and corporations to go along."

How do you deal with those bringing up inconvenient facts?

Rightwingnoisemachine.
If enough of the right people are in on the game, they will back you and pretend to buy into the most insane reasoning (see Murtha) to get past sticky moments and keep the bandwagon rolling. Your targets have very short memories.
Having convinced otherwise intelligent people to sign on, we now have two types of people voting: one type lives in the real world, the other believes in the LN and either really believes it or knows that the politicians they are supporting know, as they do, that the LN is just for getting elected. No one in their right mind would actually attempt to implement it in the real world. It was not designed for that; just to get elected by getting the votes of the lazy, willfully or unkowingly politically ignorant.
Unfortunately, the idea has succeeded beyond all its founders’ dreams. Liberals nowdays dare not get off the tiger and they must trust that someone knows what they are doing and that so many people who mean well must end up in the right place, mustn’t they? And, hey, it’s only politics, right? So they end up endorsing and pretending to believe in more and more outrageous actions needed to support the LN - i.e., "defunding" the war in Iraq.
I believe that there is still hope (see Lieberman) as some politicians still eschew the slimy LN.
 
Written By: notherbob2
URL: http://
Remarkable that the column and the commentary about the column without mentioning the twice-elected GWB.

This site is a parody, no?
What’s truly remarkable is that you somehow, apparently, believe that the title excludes any government - to include that of GWB.

Part of the ’reality based community’ I assume?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Remarkable that the column and the commentary about the column without mentioning the twice-elected GWB.
I guess that English is not your native language.
This site is a parody, no?
Your comment was one, yes.
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
The last time in my pre-college years that study of the Constitution was part of the curriculum was 8th grade. I went through 4 years of high school and we never studied it or the ideas of the country’s founding. We did, of course, have to memorize the names and dates of revolutionary war battles which has proved to be immensely useful.

Education in this country about this country is, generally, terrible.
 
Written By: Aardvark
URL: http://
"To me the only remaining question is have we reached the point of no return, or is there still time to try to turn it around?"
I don’t have a link right handy:

Did anyone here see the think-tank estimate published about a week ago, that a bit more than fifty-one percent of Americans are now receiving some sort of government subsidy?

(Me? The very first thing that I thought of was Frederick Bastiat.)

You know my stand on all this, Bruce.

On the matter of education: to call it a failure presumes that its purpose — or, at least, a certain indispensible part of it, in the matter of politics — is to establish the original American principles of individualism in young minds. I say that that purpose has been functionally dead for whole generations now. And if you understand that, then you can understand me when I say that education in America today is a resounding success.

This is what makes Scott Erb such a ghastly horror.

Some months back, I asserted over at Jim Henley’s place that, in reference to the great mass of people who live in this country, now, we are simply not talking about "Americans" anymore. A commenter informed me that he would not stipulate to my "right" to define the term.

There is a mountain of political philosophy in that comment, and I really do think it’s hopeless.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Even more remarkable than our ignorance is the celebration of it in things like Tonight Show’s JayWalking bit and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader.

As a result we get conspiracy theorists, bad economics, the inability to put things like the current situation in Iraq in context with a)the history of Iraq, b)the history of the Middle East, c)the history of US interventions and wars, et al.
 
Written By: abwtf
URL: http://abw.mee.nu
This has always been that case and will always be the case. Politics isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. How many people in the colonies in 1775 do you think could have told you about Lord North or John Wilkes?
You have a point. However, there is a key difference today. In past times, those with limited knowledge on a subject had some measure of respect for those who actually knew what they were talking about.

Compare to the typical peace protest marcher today. The utter cluelessness of those folks towards economics and political realities in the world is astonishing. Yet their arrogance about their own opinions knows no bounds.

When it comes to some key concepts, such as economics, I sense that they are proud of their ignorance. Perhaps that’s the shield that allows them to base opinions on feelings instead of facts and realities.

And then there are the journalists. They don’t know anything about business, economics, the military, or technology. That doesn’t stop them from writing about those subjects as if they were experts. And again, they seem completely comfortable with their ignorance, and use it to shamelessly push their own philosophy into their reporting.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
"Yet their arrogance about their own opinions knows no bounds"

Perhaps because many of them have college degrees. They are told they are educated, and they believe it because they do not know any better. What do they have to compare themselves to? Hisrory and any literature written before the 20th century is "not relevant". Any development of critical faculties, in spite of what is claimed to be the mission of a liberal arts education, is nipped in the bud by the exhortation "don’t be judgemental" and the promotion of multiculturalism. Telling a student that they are ignorant, which of course they are, is forbidden because it damages their delicate self-esteem.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
I don’t want to get down believing the nation is without hope. The defense of liberty is a noble and fun process. Since ignorance, misinformation, and fallacies are unending the battle for liberty is too. But imagine the horror and suffering if good people stop fighting?
 
Written By: Sean Hackbarth
URL: http://www.theamericanmind.com
"But imagine the horror and suffering if good people stop fighting?"
My touchstone on this comes from near the end of "The Eiger Sanction":

Hemlock momentarily saves the Belgian from falling off the mountain. The Belgian tells him, "You’re very good. I have really enjoyed climbing with you."

Hemlock assures him, "We’ll make it."

The Belgian replies: "I don’t think so. But we shall continue with style."


Onward. Through the Endarkenment.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Most people believe that they get a "refund" from the government every year (I’ve had this conversation with people, it’s appalling) and have absolutely no idea how much of their money they pay in taxes every year. In fact, most people don’t even know that money exists because it never touches their hands. Tax witholding was the second most brilliant scheme governments have ever created to steal our money without us knowing (the first being the erosion of the currency by printing of money).

When you look at the numbers (2+ million federal employees, 436 elected officials, a one hunderd millionth of a vote for 4 of those, etc.) it actually isn’t rational to spend time understanding politics and what goes on in Washington unless you have a spectactors interest in it, like a baseball fan would. The baseball fan doesn’t have any effect on what happens on the field, and neither does the voter. There simply is not a causal link between your particular political beliefs, the policies the government actually enacts and the direct effect those policies have on you. Unless you are a lobbyist.

It’s simple economics: there is no marginal benefit gained by even large increases in knowledge about the government, politics or economics. I can know the name of every member of congress, their precise stand on every single issue, how they cast every vote since the entered the body, and on and on and on. My taxes will still be the same, the size and scope of government will still be the same, and the knowledge and my one vote won’t have any effect whatsoever on my life, for good or bad.

Knowing that, is the public really so stupid or are they just focusing their scarce energy on knowledge with a marginal benefit?

 
Written By: DS
URL: http://
This has always been that case and will always be the case. Politics isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. How many people in the colonies in 1775 do you think could have told you about Lord North or John Wilkes?
You’re probably right and you have a point, but the validity of that comparison is limited. It’s not really valid to compare a society with the education infrastructure and information dissemination mechanisms of the colonies to ours. The average colonist didn’t spend nearly as much time in school as the average modern American, nor did they devote nearly the amount of resources to education that we do. They had the printing press. We have the internet and 24-hour news channels. I’d also be willing to bet that the average land-owning voter in the colonies was better informed than the average voter today.

The point, in my opinion and as several other posters have noted, is that Americans are being "educated", or at least exposed to an incredible amount of information. The problem is that our education system has failed to produce Americans who understand how or system of government is supposed to work, and predictably, it doesn’t. Instructors at the collegiate level are convinced that they are entrusted with some sacred duty to expose students to alternatives to what they claim is the American way of doing things, and as a result things like American constitutionalism, federalism, republicanism, and economics get mentioned only in passing. American history is discussed only when it can be presented disparagingly. Of course, to date, none I’ve met has seemed the least bit concerned that the only "alternative" view they present happens to be the Marxist perspective to which they subscribe.

A professor just cited me for poor word choice for describing the American government as being republican in form. (i.e. "Because of the republican form of the American government...").Word choice? Which word should I have chosen? I’m relatively sure that his problem was not with my choice of words, but that he fails to understand or refuses to acknowledge that The United States is a Republic, or at least that he didn’t recognize my usage of the term because the importance of the fact that the United States is a republic has disappeared from our education system.

He did the same thing on a previous draft of the same paper in which I had used the phrase "republican structure". I changed it to "republican form" because that phrase appears explicitly in the Constitution, thereby providing me ammunition if I needed to argue with him about it later.

My point is simply what I understood McQ’s to be: Our system of government depends on a well informed, educated, electorate. Specifically, our electorate must be informed about our system of government. It’s not, and our departure from the ideals of our founding has been the result.
 
Written By: Vermin
URL: http://
Depressing information to be sure...
Education to the lowest common denominator seems for the most part to be the name of the game.
Who is to be blamed is a somewhat trickier question. Some of these failures are are surely motivated by some or another groups preference for particular outcomes.
Others are systemic failures of a more innocent, though no less damaging, miasma of how or what needs to be taught.
Add in the general indifference of most youth to the value of understanding truth coupled with the ignorance of their parents and educational disaster is almost sure to follow.
One other point........ virtually everyone is more than willing to exploit this ignorance.
Somehow we have survived quite well so far, however, the stakes are getting higher and the price of ignorance has a much greater potential to lead to disaster than in the past.
Is there hope.......not much perhaps.....

Damn!
 
Written By: darohu
URL: http://

 
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