Of Lipstick and Lies
Elders and the Wall Street Mess

Voter IQ

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written any blog posts on political issues this week, be sure to get links to me by Friday for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]

category_bug_politics.gif For the past week or so, I have been tinkering with a post about the stupidity of the American public. It hadn’t quite gelled, but then I woke early this morning to these two comments on Crabby Old Lady’s post from yesterday:

From mythster of Rotten Apple:

“I've been listening to some sound bites from ‘middle aged women’ in Charlotte, N.C. that were running on Public Radio a couple of hours ago and I am not going to try to quote any of these people verbatim but in essence, they've decided to vote the McCain/Palin ticket because Palin's a woman and she knows what it's like to be a woman. That's her credentials. What more do you need?

“I remember when people were very concerned about the fact that the ‘media’ (i.e. TV) was broadcasting material aimed at a twelve year old audience. Now we know that they were programming way over their audience's heads.

“The majority of America's ‘adults’ are under-educated, unmotivated and blissfully happy in their ignorance.”

And this from joni:

“I think it's hard to underestimate the "voter I.Q." of the American public. Most people dislike the way our country is headed, yet so many of them will automatically vote for the party that created all these messes and would dig us in deeper.

“An otherwise intelligent woman told me that she couldn't vote for Obama "because of abortion. One of our friends says he despairs because he knows so many knee-jerk single-issue voters. They refuse to look at anything else.”

There was also an email from Melinda Applegate with a link to a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education by Thomas H. Benton titled On Stupidity. A couple of excerpts:

“The anti-intellectual legacy [Hofstadter] described has often been used by the political right — since at least the McCarthy era — to label any complication of the usual pieties of patriotism, religion, and capitalism as subversive, dangerous, and un-American. And, one might add, the left has its own mirror-image dogmas.”

“For academics on the political left, the last eight years represent the sleep of reason producing the monsters of our time: suburban McMansions, gas-guzzling Hummers, pop evangelicalism, the triple-bacon cheeseburger, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?, creation science, waterboarding, environmental apocalypse, Miley Cyrus, and the Iraq War — all presided over by that twice-elected, self-satisfied, inarticulate avatar of American incuriosity and hubris: he who shall not be named.”

Benton is one of those “academics on the political left” and he goes on to quote a number of books from writers who are alarmed at the declining knowledge of Americans:

Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter (2008), by Richard Shenkman, argues that the dumbing down of our political culture is linked to the decline of organized labor and local party politics, which kept members informed on matters of substance. Building on arguments put forward in books such as What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004), by Thomas Frank, Shenkman shows how the political right has been able to don the populist mantle even as it pursues policies that thwart the economic and social interests of the average voter.

“Meanwhile, the political left is unable to argue that those average Americans are in some way responsible for their own exploitation because they are too shallow and misinformed — too stupid — to recognize their own interests.” [emphasis added]

I think of this nearly every day as TV news broadcasts a bunch of fully-grown adults shouting “Drill, baby, drill” at John McCain/Sarah Palin speeches when all reputable experts in America tell us that not a drop of that oil will reach pumps for 15 or 20 years and will not lower the price.

Benton, whose job as he sees it is to “combat ignorance and foster the skills and knowledge needed to produce intelligent, ethical, and productive citizens,” lists some of the qualities of his students:

  • Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their "feelings" — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.
  • Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.
  • Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.
  • Uncertain about academic honesty and what constitutes plagiarism. (I recently had a student defend herself by claiming that her paper was more than 50 percent original, so she should receive that much credit, at least.)
  • Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.
  • Uncertain about spelling and punctuation (and skeptical that such skills matter).
  • Hostile to anything that is not directly relevant to their career goals, which are vaguely understood.
  • Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while "needing" to receive very high grades.
  • Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.
  • Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student.

I first noticed some of these qualities in young graduates I worked with as long ago as the 1980s, so we now have at least one generation of adults – voters – of the sort mythster and joni describe. And, I would venture, some well-known, high-level politicians too. There is reason to despair.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Morgana Sage writes of the sadness When Old Dogs Die.]


Comments

All of it, sadly. true.

I was told not to long ago by one of those Average American's that I 'read too much'.

The dumbing down has been going on for a very long time. One the best teacher I had in high school was my history/government teacher. In 1964, after weeks of debate in class about the upcoming election (LBJ vs. Goldwater), he scheduled a classwide debate in which all the Democrats had to speak in support of Goldwater and all the Republicans had to speak for Johnson. It was an exercise in critical thinking that taught me a lot and has served me well ever since. If a teacher assigned that today, parents would be screaming. As it was, he wound up fired because of his "strange views". I liked him -- he taught us to look at things from both sides before choosing a candidate. I don't know where he is now but I'd love to hear what he's thinking about this election.

And yeah, I still want to vote "No!" for president.

Part of the problem is that more intelligent people tend to limit the size of their families, while others just don't care. We are being outnumbered by stupid people.

But, when teachers are required to pass kids that just show up, rather than those who have mastered the material, oops. There goes the motivation for the others to do more.

I'm telling you--get a popcorn concession. America is on a slide to total illiteracy, and proud of it.

Education is aimed at producing worker bees. They don't have to be all that smart...

Agree with all that's been said, which equally can be applied to the UK.....dumbing down of everything and those bright ones in schools/colleges think they have to hide their knowledge as "nobody likes a smart arse".

Just as a tiny example, look at some of the quizzes on t.v. The level of ignorance is frightening.

Like many, I despair at what is happening on the U.S. political scene. So much focus on personalities not issues and it's the minority who realise that whatever the outcome in the elections, the impact will be global.

What a bunch of elitist, pompous asses. Harrumph! One of you actually called a talk show the other day and said "I can't support Sarah Palin because she only has a Bachelor's Degree." Well, I only have a Bachelors and it took twenty years to get it because I had to go to night school after my then spouse abandoned me and our children. I raised a family, expanded my career and continued my education, only to have to listen to someone who was always superior to me look down their bifocals, pat me on the head and say tut, tut. Oh my gawd, I hope my spelling and sentence structure is suitable in this post.

Ronni,a very good post--refrained, dispassionate--about a very complicated topic.

Ronni, all, I believe we all agree this is one of, if not, THE MOST important election of our time. I don't know what to do to get the word out to our peers that our vote could be the deciding factor in this election.

We must continue to be vigilant, read, gather information and speak out. I am thrilled Ronni provides a vehicle for us to do this but we must extend this voice.

I got called by the Obama campaign to volunteer to get out the vote in Virginia. We talked about the over 65 crowd and I am doing a conference call on this. I work for a retirement community. All of our communities have onsite polls. This group is going to start at retirement communities and senior centers because those are the largest gathering places.

Volunteer to help. Talk to your friends. Decision 2009: we can carry the election!! We must, the economic and health care stakes are too high. Reports today is that Goldman Sachs and Wachovia are trying to do a deal to save each other's company. Wall Street is in a frenzy.

My gosh, Granny Annie - Sarah Palin's bachelor's degree is hardly the problem! I don't know who that caller could've been, but he/she was most certainly not representative of a majority of us out here. I, too, got my undergrad degree - and my graduate degree as well while raising children alone for most of those years. I don't think anyone is talking educational attainment here, so much as folks who are too intellectually lazy to find out what the issues are, what the candidate's backgrounds are, and to use that knowledge to make informed decisions. You don't even need a college education to do that!

Says Zoe: "You don't even need a college education to do that."

Case in point: me. I never spent a day in college and only 10 years total education to graduate from high school.

I'm sure there are some who would say that's my problem, but the educational system has so degraded in our lifetime that it takes a bachelor's degree today to barely be the equivalent of high school in our day.

A string of letters behind a name has nothing to do with the quality of a person's mind. Some of the dumbest people I know have degrees and some of the smartest didn't finish high school.

Sure, U.S. voters sometimes make dumb choices and can be swayed by rather superficial emotions. All we have to do look at who we put in office in 2000 and 2004 (or if you like, we made it so close that they could steal the elections). Or look at my state: we were (properly) furious with the inability of the California state government to govern, so we turned to an action film hero.

But we are not yet irretrievably inattentive and oblivious. We believed our authorities when they said we needed to invade Iraq to protect ourselves ... and then we figured out we had been lied to and by substantial margins we want out. We mostly have believed our leaders who said we have a fundamentally sound economy ... though we had suspicions since our own economic conditions weren't so good and we were tempted to borrow to keep up our standard of living ...we see where that is going.

Folks are not so much stupid as overly trusting of rulers that lie to us, claiming they are governing when too many are merely looting. Folks are a little lazy -- we are willing to pretend we can have the American dream without using the smarts we were born with to insist on making the country work.

We still, just barely, in Benjamin Franklin's phrase, have a republic whose course we can influence, "if we can keep it." That takes effort. Lots of that effort will be for imperfect improvements when we long for better. Are we willing to go there?

Oh and one more thing. Sometimes we figure stuff out pretty fast: check this link and watch US voters catch on to Sarah Palin in a week's time.

A few observations:

--I'm not concerned that Palin has "only" a bachelor's degree. Harry Truman had no college degree whatsoever and he did ok. What I'm concerned about is that she's an ambitious, unscrupulous, truth-shaving know-nothing who sees her main chance to get into great power. The gleam of greed in her eyes scares the bejesus out of me.

--Addison reminded us that you can't reason with a person who used no reason to obtain their opinions. Trying to reason about the efficacy of off-shore drilling, the failure of trickle-down economics, or the folly of single-issue voting is just an exercise in futility. Most of the American public has no opinion that they can call their own, and are damned proud of it.

--Benton's list of student attributes that Ronni provides could, with few modifications, apply to their parents, as well. After all, where did these students get their values?

I don't have a college degree and certainly don't think the problem with Palin is she hasn't got one from an Ivy League School. It is what she has done with her brain, what she has done abusing her positions, it's why McCain picked her when he said someone with foreign policy experience is critical in the next president. Hers is she can see Russia from Alaska? Say what! People who say they are voting for her mostly say it's because she is like them. So that's the new criteria; so why not pick our next president by lottery!

I have been a university professor for 32 years, and I would certainly agree with Benton's list of characteristics of the contemporary college student.

I think it important to mention that most schools make tenure/promotion/salary decisions based heavily on the evaluations these same students make of professors, and as long as that continues many of us in the professor world will conclude that a demanding eduction must be subordinated to our own survival.

It is a sad system.

Great post Ronni and you quoted the best segments of the Chronicle article for sure. Earlier I was very confident of Obama winning the election, but lately my fears are growing of losing (again) because of the stupidity of the average American voter. Especially after the hooplah over Sarah Palin, whom I think is a disaster in spike heels (and lipstick), I admit I'm losing hope. But this time we must prevail and do everything we can to get the truth out and counter the lies and deception.

I too am very concerned about the dumbing down of the American voter, and the population in general, and I don't think having a degree or not has anything to do with one's intelligence and curiousity to keep learning. I have no degree, but a high school education meant something back in the 1950's and 1960's. I think our American culture has lost a lot of its old fashioned "work ethic" over the years and too many people have become lazy and addicted to instant gratification, materialism and greed.

It is very sad and we certainly need a huge and real change in our leadership to perhaps help turn our society around into the right direction, if it's not already too late.

I think most people do vote based on their emotions. My own emotions are driven by not wanting to leave an economic sucking hole behind for my kids to fall into and not be able to climb out from, or a huge war they'll be drafted into. That's why I support Obama and not McCain.

If you want to see another depression in this country, go ahead -- vote for McCain.

If you want the rational reason, just compare their two economic plans, or their health care plans -- do you even realize McCain wants employees to pay taxes on your health care benefits? Or that spouses might lose their health care benefits, or that cancer survivors will probably not be able to get insurance under the McCain plan?

Didn't think so.

http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/

http://econ4obama.blogspot.com/2008/04/mccains-health-care-plan.html

I definitely agree with many of the things you said in today's blog and can also disagree on certain points with many of your respondents, Ronni. But I will be glad when December comes because by then perhaps we can see more objectivity in your blog and its commentors rather than (mostly) one-sided political hyperblather.
For now I choose to comment on the quote (from joni) which you seem to support, "an otherwise intelligent woman" who finds abortion repugnant.
The majority of persons in the medical profession and the majority of persons who know biology believe that the fetus, or unborn child, is not 'part of the mother,' like a kidney or a tumor, but a separate being. The DNA and chromosomes attest to that. And our Constitution guarantees that no person may be deprived of life without due process of law (each as an individual case, not a sweeping condemnation of all persons in a particular class). So the question is, when does that fetus become recognized as a person? When the child first breathes air? In Illinois, only State Senator Obama voted against medical efforts to save the life of a prematurely delivered infant who remained alive after a 'botched' abortion. (Above his pay grade?) When it first is viable after removal from the womb? Neo-natal medicine keeps moving that date back earlier and earlier with special care for (wanted) 'preemies.' So the NARAL crowd doesn't want that definition. But considering development of physiognomy, organs, nerves, it can be argued that a fetus is a person at 36 weeks of development, at 32 weeks, at 28 -- and the edge keeps being pushed back closer and closer to the date of conception. The question of viability is really a question of how effective our medical practices are. Bearing that in mind, there can certainly be made a logical and intelligent argument that this unborn baby, this new human being, distinctly different from its mother, is a person even only a few weeks from its conception. If a person arrives at this opinion after considering the facts intelligently, then totally permissive abortion would certainly in their mind would logically be considered murder -- the wilful taking the life of another person, in the absence of due process of law which decided that the continued survival of that person is a danger to society. And we all know of cases when abortion has been decided upon for questions of convenience, reputation, avoidance of embarrassment, furtherance of education, advancement in one's job, to avoid overcrowding in one's current home, to avoid hurting the feelings or the economic well-being of the already existing siblings. As compelling as these arguments are, are they really justification for quenching the life of a developing human being, full of potential and promise? Considering all this, abortion could be, to many intelligent persons, the greatest of all evils, the greatest and most compelling of crimes against humanity. Compared to slander, to fraud, to bigotry, to slavery, abortion could be(to some people, even using their intelligence) the most egregious moral outrage of all. Count the thousands killed in Iraq? Count the millions killed by legalized abortion!
And the person you quoted, and you, apparently, consider a woman who opposes abortion to be "otherwise intelligent." Reviewing the same facts, you may disagree and come to different conclusions. But to believe that someone who disagrees with you has a flaw in their intelligence is sad, narrow-visioned arrogance. Shame on you.

Happy ponderer, we're all entitled to our own opinions and beliefs. I don't consider anybody to be unintelligent because they might not share mine. What I feel isn't smart is for them to vote based on only one issue and ignore all the rest. There are plenty of complicated issues facing us in this election.

Joni, my sentiments exactly!

Ronni,
Thanks for what you are doing here, trying to get the word out about what is happening politically.

I see such long posts fromeveryone else, I will just say "good luck with your mission and may the force be with you!"

Anne

I hope you continue to present the pertinent facts here on all issues regarding the state of our nation, Ronni. You are so good at presenting such information and I truly value your writing perspective.

I think what is most vitally needed between now and election day are continued comparisons of the differing issue positions of the '08 election candidates. Hopefully the manner will attract voters of varying viewpoints to TGB -- especially those at risk of voting with inadequate facts or who might vote based on falsehoods.

I hope the case continues to be made here to readers, especially new ones, that voters need to look beyond the divisive politics of the past two elections and consider all the issues before casting their ballot.

I think the TGB challenge in your posts and our comments is to attract them to read/listen and return so we don't end up "singing to the choir." These are the new voices we need to bring about the real change our government needs.

"I first noticed some of these qualities in young graduates I worked with as long ago as the 1980s...."

1) Ronni, if my math holds up, you were in your 40s during the 1980s--the time at which, I've observed, each generation seems to decide that the next generation is going to hell in a handbasket.
2) In my view, intelligence is not the capability that is lacking, but maturity. Each generation seems to reach intellectual maturity at a later age. That this is due to the increasing complexity of the world scene seems likely, to me.
3) The real issue is world (over)population. Ronnie Prior wrote, "Part of the problem is that more intelligent people tend to limit the size of their families, while others just don't care. We are being outnumbered by stupid people."
(I would replace "intelligent" with "intellectually mature" and "stupid" by "impractical". It isn't very practical to believe that finite resources can support burgeoning human growth.)
4) The "most important" election of our lifetime has come and gone. Only because of the way it went is this year's election so important. Unfortunately, neither set of candidates has shown me the capability to lead our country. Were I a "one issue" voter, I would have to vote for Obama/Biden.

Your phrase, "stupidity of the American public," caught my eye. Lately, I've been hearing, on news programs, a lot of women saying, "She has kids, and she's holding down a job! She's just like me! I'm going to vote for her!" If only these same women would follow up on their thinking by saying, "So does that mean having babies and jobs are great qualifications for being president?"

Roni, This is one of the best posts you've given us in a long time and I've seldom seen such interesting comments.There are so many points I would like to address but don't want to write a long, long comment. As a former college instructor, I've seen all these negative attributes in today's students. I have a Master's degree and my father didn't finish grade school, but he was one of the most intelligent men I've ever known because he read, read, read. Yes, in the 1950s, a high school education was the equivalent of at least an associate's degree today and a grade school education was often the equivalent of today's high school diploma. How many of us have parents who went no farther than the eighth grade, yet had great reading, math, and reasoning skills?

I'm with Happy Panderer. On what level does believeing in a woman's "right" to abort her baby equate with intelligence? I think I know the answer: if one accepts that our world is dominated and ruled by expedient pragmatism. Which is just another way of saying the ends justify the means. There is such a thing as "spiritual wisdom," and I feel Sarah Palin possesses that. Abortion, the killing of human life in the womb, is the most egregiously immoral issue of our time. Respect for life underlies everything; it is the reason why we are here. Just think: the woman who aborts her baby is not following in her own mother's footsteps. Could she not extend to her child that same merciful love?

I receive this blog a day later than most readers....and not early either...I am depressed to learn that my fears about the wide extent of dumb voters is now confirmed....When death comes I'll be ready....Can't afford to leave the country

Joni, thanks for your reply. Alice, thanks for your comment also. I do recognize that there are many issues to consider in the election of the President. But there can be several reasons for narrowing the voting decision down to one issue. Perhaps the voter considers the two candidates to be equally valid in their approaches to most issues; perhaps each candidate has pluses and minuses, and the abortion issue is the tie-breaker. Or perhaps the voter is so appalled at the enormity of the moral error of permissive abortion that all other issues pale. Don't jump hastily to the conclusion that ascribing such importance to the issue of abortion is a sign of weak intelligence. Consider that for many Senators in the Democratic party, abortion is the ultimate and overwhelming litmus test in approval of candidates for the Supreme Court. Isn't it so? Are you now saying that these Senators aren't smart because they're making abortion the defining issue in the approval of a judicial appointee?

Maud wrote, "Just think: the woman who aborts her baby is not following in her own mother's footsteps."
Revisit Logic 101, Maud. The only thing we know about the woman who aborts her baby is that either, not all of her own mother's fetuses were aborted or that at least one of the fetuses survived being aborted.
If life is so important, why do most anti-abortionists seem to support wars, and why do they NOT support controlling our population (through means other than abortion) so that people don't die of the conditions that overpopulation brings?

Our American legacy: spin doctors and sound bytes. Most of this nation is suffering from attention deficit disorder. Let's look at the facts: most movies, television, and advertising has to cram everything into as short a time frame as possible (and constantly switch scenes) because the average American gets bored if something takes longer than 30 seconds. Alas, I fear that we are doomed.

I don't know who that caller could've been, but he/she was most certainly not representative of a majority of us out here. I, too, got my undergrad degree - and my graduate degree as well while raising children alone for most of those years. I don't think anyone is talking educational attainment here, so much as folks who are too intellectually lazy to find out what the issues are, what the candidate's backgrounds are, and to use that knowledge to make informed decisions. You don't even need a college education to do that!

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