An Informed Voting Public?

Our Founding Fathers created a democracy based on informed voters carefully selecting a representative government. The reality is that, after nearly 240 years, we have neither an informed public nor a representative government. The most recent election is a case in point.

After six years of Teapublican obstruction, the approval rating of Congress was lower than the approval of cockroaches. So what did our “informed” voters do? They re-elected the vast majority of the incumbents and gave extra seats to members of the party that was responsible for the obstruction. Our national political pundits explained this phenomenon as the result of a low voter turnout and massive spending of “dark money” to elect candidates who would repay their benefactors with fewer regulations and more tax cuts. I explained that it was the result of the failure of the Democratic Party to promote its record of pulling our economy out of perhaps the biggest hole in history, making affordable health care available to most Americans, improving our nation’s standing throughout the world, expanding consumer protections and attempting to expand civil rights to all segments of our population.

There’s a better explanation.

This past Sunday, Fareed Zakaria, on his CNN show Global Public Square, featured an Ipsos MORI international study that measured the political ignorance in 14 western nations. The study asked respondents from those nations about various issues ranging from unemployment to immigration. While Italy ranked number one as the least informed citizenry, voters in the US ranked a close second. For example, when asked about unemployment in the US, our respondents guessed that the figure was 32 percent when the real number is less than 6 percent nationwide. When asked about the number of recent immigrants in our country, Americans guessed that they make up 32 percent of our population, when the real number is about 13 percent. Asked about the number of Muslims in our country, Americans guessed that Muslims comprise 15 percent of our population, when the real figure is 1 percent.

The large number of poorly informed voters explains why voters continue to vote against their own self-interests; why poor people vote for officials who give large tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations; why they vote for officials who refuse to raise the minimum wage; why women vote for officials who refuse to demand equal pay for equal work; why the retired and near-retired vote for representatives who want to eliminate Social Security and Medicare.

Of course, we also have to ask ourselves why so many Americans are so poorly informed. The answer can be summed up in two words: schools and media.

Many of our schools no longer teach civics. As a result, many of our young people have never read the Constitution. They don’t even know how our government works. In addition, many of our nation’s textbooks are edited and approved by Texas conservatives so that they more resemble Christian and military propaganda than American history or science. For instance, we are still teaching children that Christopher Columbus discovered America when historians agree that he didn’t. And many of our schools are forced to teach “creationism” as an alternative to evolution, even though evolution is a fact as established as the theory of gravity.

Further, our so-called news media have placed an emphasis on entertainment and sensationalism to drive ratings at the expense of real news and information. As a result, we all know about the latest murder trial or the marital status of celebrities. But we don’t know the beliefs and agendas of the candidates on our ballots. Neither do we know world events that will ultimately affect us. We don’t even know that the US has been fighting wars for all but 13 years of our nation’s history. And we don’t know that our own actions led to most of them. Worse yet, we don’t know that our nation is no longer a democracy. Numerous political scientists and economists have proven that, by definition, it has become an oligarchy. (Of course, our poorly educated public likely doesn’t even know what an oligarchy is.)

The point of all this is to say that, if you don’t like our government, it’s not entirely the fault of those who were elected. It’s not necessarily the fault of one political party or our political system. The fault is our own, because we voted the scoundrels into office without ever bothering to ask what they will do. We’re only interested in which tribe they belong to – red or blue.

How Teapublicans Cheat. Let Me Count The Ways.

1 – Lies: People tend to think that all politicians lie. To some degree, that’s true. In order to make a point that can be used as a 20-second sound bite in the news, most politicians stretch the truth or take things out of context. But a recent study shows that Republicans lie much more than Democrats. And many of their lies have absolutely no basis in reality. By comparison, Democrats are more likely to simply stretch the truth than blatantly lie.

2 – Fear: Every election cycle Teapublicans raise issues intended to generate fear. In 2010, it was “death panels,” “dangerous criminals” crossing our southern border, our “out of control” national debt and ACORN. In 2012, it was again brown people entering our country illegally in addition to “Benghazi,” “Obamacare,” “bankrupt” Social Security and Medicare, election fraud, and the “takers” who make too little to pay income taxes. In 2014, it’s immigration, ISIS and Ebola. Be afraid…very afraid…and remember only Teapublicans can save you!

3 – Divisiveness: Teapublicans delight in turning different groups against one another. The “job creators” versus the “takers;” corporations versus environmentalists; the rich versus the poor; whites versus African-Americans and Latinos; pro-life versus pro-choice; men versus women; Christians versus Muslims; the old versus the young; the uneducated versus the educated; rural versus urban…the list is very long.

4 – Religion: Teapublicans have co-opted Christianity for political gain. Beginning with the anti-abortion movement, they have fomented paranoia (particularly in the South) that Christianity is under attack. They have led the devout and the gullible to believe that religious freedom only pertains to Christians. And contrary to Christ’s teachings, they are intolerant of others, especially the weak and the poor.

5 – Gerrymandering: In the early half of the 20th century, Democrats changed legislative and congressional districts to make it easier for their candidates to be elected. But as Republicans were elected in southern states, beginning in the 1970s, they took the art of gerrymandering to extremes. In states with Republican-controlled legislatures, they’ve created district maps that look like a Rorschach test. Areas with a preponderance of Democratic voters have been so divided they can no longer elect candidates representing their own views.

6 – Voter Suppression: In an increasing number of states, Jim Crow is back. In 2000, Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush ordered his Secretary of State to purge voter lists of felons. If a John Smith was a felon, all those named John Smith in the state were purged from the voting rolls. As a result, more than 10,000 voters in Democratic districts were denied the right to vote. In 2014, Teapublican-controlled legislatures have implemented strict voter ID laws intended to suppress the votes of minorities, college students and the elderly. In Texas alone, it’s estimated that 600,000 voters will be denied their constitutional right.

7 – Intimidation & Dirty Tricks: If Nixon and his campaign staff perfected political dirty tricks, the rest of his party must have been taking notes. For example, in many minority districts, the number of polling locations have been reduced and early voting times cut, making it more difficult to vote. Since 2004, some minorities have had to stand in line for up to nine hours to vote. In some areas, armed white Teapublican bullies calling themselves “poll watchers” have challenged minority voters with the intent to prevent them from voting .

8 – Dark Money: The Supreme Court cases which ruled that money equals free speech and that corporations have the same rights as individuals were initiated by Teapublicans. Why? They knew that the conservative court would open the floodgates of political contributions from corporations and billionaires benefiting Teapublican candidates. They have created an enormous network of non-profits with which to launder money and funnel it to Teapublican campaigns. To make matters worse, the three Republicans on the Federal Election Commission have blocked any and all attempts to control it. As a result, dark money groups have been able to run ads for candidates and attack their opponents without fear of reprisal.

9 – Absentee Voter Fraud: Though it has been proven that in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent, fraudulent absentee ballots have long been an issue. In the 2000 presidential election, an estimated 10,000 unsigned absentee ballots were counted for Bush…more than enough to change the outcome of the election. Interestingly, the strict voter ID laws pushed by Teapublican legislatures do not cover absentee ballots. Wonder why?

10 – Dysfunctional Governance: Republican author P.J. O’Rourke famously said, “The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.” That has certainly been the case since 2011. Republicans in the Senate have used the filibuster to bring Washington to a standstill. They have blocked every Democratic initiative while offering few of their own. And the Teapublican-controlled House has done little else than vote more than 50 times to repeal “Obamacare.” The result is to make Congress less popular than cockroaches. Yet they stand to benefit from their sabotage because they can count on uniformed voters to vote for change, not realizing who is responsible for the problem in the first place.

11 – Hate Radio: Since the end of the Fairness Doctrine, more than 92 percent of talk radio has been devoted to conservative hate. The constant drone of attacks against the government and Democrats has had the effect of hundreds of millions of dollars in political advertising promoting Teapublicans.

12 – Corporate Media: While the so-called “mainstream” media are not so blatantly political, they have contributed to the Teapublican cause by leading with crime and fear. They have blown the threat of Ebola out of proportion while ignoring issues that have a real impact on our citizens. Worse, they tell us what we want to know…which celebrity is screwing who…versus telling us what we need to know. The media’s willful ineptitude has played into the hands of Teapublican strategists by magnifying the issues of fear and divisiveness.

Yes, Democrats are guilty of some of the same things. But saying both parties do it is a false equivalency. Teapublicans have mastered the art of lying and cheating. Of course, they wouldn’t be so successful at it if not for Democratic incompetence. Though I believe that Democrats are generally better at governing, especially for ordinary working people, the party is woefully overmatched when it comes to marketing and communications. The party is so diverse that it has difficulty taking a stand on anything, except that they don’t like Teapublicans.

Worse, few Democratic candidates have the strength of conviction to stand up for what they’ve accomplished. One need only look at how Democratic incumbents have run away from their votes on “Obamacare,” the 2009 economic stimulus, and Dodd-Frank, despite the fact that these things were needed and highly successful.

Contrasting British Politics With Ours.

On a recent trip to Scotland, I participated in a rally for Scottish independence…a Scotland independent of the United Kingdom. Although I strongly believe that outsiders should not be involved in local politics, I joined the march in support of my friends.

What I experienced was extraordinary.

The leaders of the Scottish independence movement were positive, upbeat and forward-thinking. Despite the fact that the people of Scotland have been underrepresented since the formation of the UK, there was no anger; no frustration on display. On the “telly,” there were reasoned discussions and debates. One evening, representatives of both sides debated the issues with facts and little emotion. The moderator interrupted on numerous occasions to ask a follow-up question or to challenge a viewpoint. Over the course of the debate, the viewers, and probably the participants, had a genuine opportunity to learn.

Now imagine something similar transpiring in the US.

Imagine if the so-called “Independent Republic of Texas” followed through on years of threats to secede from the US. Imagine the vitriol and anger. Imagine the rancor and misinformation that would dominate our media. Imagine the long list of talking points that would be “reported” by Fox News Channel, MSNBC and the rest of our mass media.
By the time the process was over, most of the rest of us would be ready to secede from each other.

In fact, we’re now experiencing incredibly high levels of vitriol over a much lesser issue…simple budget negotiations.

Now ask yourself, why? Are the citizens of Scotland and the UK really so very different from us? Why are Britons able to remain civil while debating issues of political import? Why can British reporters hold politicians accountable when our reporters can’t? Why are British elections held over a matter of weeks, while US elections are now perpetual? Why are millionaires, billionaires and corporations unable to secretly buy votes for British candidates, while they are allowed to own most US candidates and offices?

I don’t have the answers. But if we want this “grand experiment in democracy” to last, we better find some fast!