This explains a lot…

Abraham Epton

Surveys demonstrating the ignorance of the American public about matters political are nothing new and, while frightening, have lost their shock value. Or so I had thought. Comes now an article by Louis Menand in the New Yorker arguing that only around ten per cent of the American public even has an ideology at all, by which he means a coherent political philosophy. He cites a forty-year-old article by Philip Converse called "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics", which he argues represents even today the state of the art when it comes to understanding voting behavior: Converse claimed that only around ten per cent of the public has what can be called, even generously, a political belief system. He named these people "ideologues," by which he meant not that they are fanatics but that they have a reasonable grasp of "what goes with what"???of how a set of opinions adds up to a coherent political philosophy. Non-ideologues may use terms like "liberal" and "conservative," but Converse thought that they basically don???t know what they???re talking about. Lest this seem like so much more elitism from that New York-based bastion of red-blooded populism, Menand cites polls conducted in the late 1980s, which show that "between twenty and twenty-five per cent of the public thinks that too little is being spent on welfare, and between sixty-three and sixty-five per cent feels that too little is being spent on assistance to the poor." Menand goes on to argue that people tend to know a few things about candidates, and that these things they do know tend not to be how the candidates feel about particular issues. This contributes to the now-obvious cheapening of the political discourse ("contributes" may not even be appropriate; one could argue for "creates".) The point is that our system of governance may be in serious peril, founded as it is on the now-inaccurate assumption that people care about how they are governed. The sad truth may be that we need to reconsider at least our assumptions, if not our conclusions, about how to create and run a democratic society. Of all places, The Onion is all over this story. In a piece entitled "American People Ruled Unfit To Govern", tells it a little too much like it is for a fake newspaper: "It doesn't really change anything, to be honest," said Duke University political-science professor Benjamin St. James. "The public hasn't made any real contributions to the governance of the country in decades, so I don't see how this ruling affects all that much." The irony of the 2004 elections, which have seen lightweight satirical outlets like the Daily Show and The Onion take on ever more prominence, is that the rest of the news media has gotten so inept and watered-down that some of the best and freshest reporting literally does come from self-described "fake" news outlets. This is hardly an original observation, but every time a Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad gets a pass, or is just reported on "objectively", well, you gotta have something to mutter under your breath.

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