Following the lead of pernicious corporations that outsource jobs, some Americans have begun to outsource their thinking.
Let those who are truly interested in politics and issues do the pondering for us, they seem to say. After all, given maddening commutes, pressures at work, attending children’s activities or caring for aging parents, there’s little time for being conversant with contemporary disputes.
The result: Next November’s election may well be determined by those who rely on talk-show hosts, church leaders, neighbors or relatives for opinions on candidates and issues.
A while back an acquaintance bragged about her third-grade niece to my wife. “She explained the electoral college to me,” the woman said. “Until then I’d never heard of the Electoral College.” This woman had looked to her husband to inform her vote, as did another much younger woman who told me, “Current events are so depressing that I just turn off the TV when the news is on. I need down time at the end of the day, and don’t want to be aggravated by the world’s problems.” She also admitted that sometimes she’s never heard of the candidate for whom she marks a ballot.
Just before the 2004 elections, I lunched with three college-educated, professional men. During our political discussion, each professed he’d never heard of Karl Rove.
Poll indicates two-thirds are in the dark
These acquaintances aren’t by any means alone. A recent Harris poll tells us that two-thirds of adults in America admit to being in the dark about political issues. This poll also states that 59 percent of us don’t like learning about foreign affairs, and 32 percent don’t care about local politics either. And James Joyner, in the online journal Outside the Beltway, reports an August 2007 poll indicating only 3 percent of women and 14 percent of men claim to be extremely knowledgeable about world affairs. Most poll respondents said they just weren’t interested.
Are we smarter than fifth-graders? Just 36 percent of us could identify Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, according to a Pew Research Center Report titled “What Americans Know—1989-2007.” (PDF) Only two-thirds of adults can name the governor of their state; 37 percent know Robert Gates is secretary of defense; fewer than 30 percent have heard of Scooter Libby; only 15 percent identified Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and 30 percent of registered voters don’t know Dick Cheney is vice president.
Among my acquaintances are individuals who shamelessly confess they’ll go into a voting booth and not recognize the names of candidates, but merely check those affiliated with their party of choice.
Many of these voters have outsourced their thinking, and too often they look to the nation’s 1,500 conservative radio talk-show hosts for directions. Is it any wonder Rush Limbaugh’s ardent followers are called “ditto-heads?” They embrace Limbaugh’s views as their own and ditto whatever he says.
Left has had its ditto-heads too
But the left has had its own ditto-heads, though probably not so recently. In years past, local union officials would present a slate of candidates to members and urge them to get behind those anointed by the union board. As unions have disappeared, labor leaders can marshal only a fraction of the nation’s working class to vote their self-interests.
More to the point; when voters abdicate deliberating about the issues that shape the world and their places in it, the foundations of our democracy are at risk. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Politics should be the part-time profession of every American.” Few, however, adhere to that, and the dictum has been mostly forgotten.
Some of us may shudder at Thomas Jefferson’s pronouncement, “Information is the currency of democracy,” because they believe there is more data and information than we are capable of processing. Information overload becomes the byword; concerning weighty topics, the late film mogul Samuel Goldwyn perhaps expressed their sentiments with his “Include me out” aphorism.
Yet nearly everyone would agree that elections are important, and ideally each voter is an informed voter. By outsourcing thinking and discoursing about events and issues to so-called experts or pundits, we fail to appreciate author Dorothy Gilman’s adage about personal involvement in the democratic process. When we are fully engaged, she writes, “… we sit with the gods and design ourselves.”
Michael Fedo is the author of “The Lynchings in Duluth,” “The Man From Lake Wobegon” and other books.
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