ALSO IN ATLANTA! Atlanta has suffered a two-year cheating mess. Why did the Times take a pass?
THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2011
Mark Twain and the TV profs/The truth about us the people: Are we the people driven by nothing but slobbering racial concern?
We almost wish it were so! Consider a gruesome part of Hacker and Pierson’s book, “Winner-Take-All Politics.”
It starts on page 108. It concerns the things we the people just plain flat-out don’t know:
HACKER AND PIERSON (page 108): Optimists about American democracy too often presume that all this is relatively straightforward. The truth is much more unsettling—so unsettling that even in serious political discourse it is usually considered bad manners to point it out. The truth is that most citizens pay very little attention to politics, and it shows. To call their knowledge of even the most elementary facts about the political shaky would be generous. To take just a few examples, less than a third of Americans know that a member of the House serves for two years or that a senator serves for six. In 2000, six years after Newt Gingrich became House speaker, only 55 percent knew the Republicans were the majority party in the House—a success rate only a little superior to a random guess. Just two years after he presided over Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in the Senate, only 11 percent of those surveyed could identify William Rehnquist as chief justice of the United States.
We’ve highlighted the most significant point. We the people are hopelessly uninformed; this makes us vulnerable to various claims from every crank, kook, crackpot and TV billionaire. But in our so-called “serious political discourse,” it’s considered bad manners to say so! No one ever tells the people that they don’t know squat from squadoosh. Pols don’t do so for obvious reasons. “Journalists” are also concerned with maintaining their popularity; for this reason, they are constantly spotted on the TV machine, telling us how sharp we all are. This permits the cluelessness to grow. Hacker and Pierson continue:
HACKER AND PIERSON (continuing directly): Crucial and basic matters of political process are equally opaque to most voters. In early 2011, as Republicans brought Washington to a halt as effectively as the unexpected winter snowstorms, most Americans had no idea that not a single Republican senator had voted for health-care reform (two-thirds either put the number at between five and twenty or said they didn’t know), and less than a third could correctly identify the number of votes needed to overcome a filibuster (sixty). Well over half of Americans said fifty-one votes were sufficient, or confessed they had no idea.
We the people know virtually nothing. This helps explain why people like Donald Trump can put dumb ideas in peoples’ heads, especially when they’re being enabled by their overpaid, unprepared society friends. (Examples: Walters, Behar and Goldberg. It’s a form of “professional courtesy.”)
That said, many folk who follow politics can’t conceive of how dumb the rest of us are. You can’t blame that on Hacker and Pierson! The gentlemen pour it on:
HACKER AND PIERSON (continuing directly): About policy, most voters know even less. Roughly half of Americans think that foreign aid is one of the two top expenditures in the federal budget (it reality, it consumes about 1 percent of the budget). In 1980, in the midst of the Cold War, 38 percent of Americans surveyed believed that the Soviet Union was a member of NATO—the anti-Soviet defense alliance. Two years after the huge 2001 tax cuts, half of Americans were unable to recall that there had been tax cuts at all. Most of the famous “swing voters,” whom journalists tend to idealize as standing above the fray, carefully sorting among the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s offerings, are actually the least engaged, less well-informed citizens, reaching a final decision (if at all) on the flimsiest grounds.
If we might be permitted a major buzz kill, you’ll note that these numbers make it hard to blame this whole thing on the “tea-baggers.” On balance, we Democrats, liberals and progressives are dumb as a box of rocks too.
We offer this as a continuation of yesterday’s discussion. We the people are amazingly dumb. In truth, we don’t know squat from squadoosh; squadoodle is light-years beyond us. For that reason, we’re prone to believing every damn-fool claim that comes down the pike; in fact, we always have been. We’ll recommend Twain’s portrait of the cowardly lynch mob, followed instantly by his fond portrait of the credulous circus crowd (just click here). But we the people are dumb as rocks, and we always have been.
For these reasons, we’re often amazed when the professors descend from the skies to tell us what everyone has to be thinking when they believe the latest fool thing. For our money, some TV professors are dumb as rocks too, a trait they display on demand.