ELDER MUSIC: Musicians You Should Know About II - Part 2
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REFLECTIONS: American Ignorance

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the bi-weekly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday. The Reflections archive of of previous essays is here.

I first encountered the abysmal political ignorance of so many Americans during my coverage of the final days of Jimmy Carter’s successful 1976 run for the presidency. That ignorance, I believe, accounts in large part for a society (and the press) that countenances the organized mobs of lumpen proletariat that seek to kill the presidency of Barack Obama.

Make no mistake that’s what they, and their aiders and abettors on radio, television and the right wing of the Republican party are about. I repeat, they’re trying to kill Obama’s presidency, one way or the other.

I was sent by my bureau to South Philadelphia to see if the relatively new issue of abortion was having any effect on the race. A group of Catholic clergymen meeting in Washington had criticized Carter on the issue and embraced the Republican incumbent, President Ford.

I stationed myself inside a coin-operated laundry, across from a prominent church and school, to talk to Catholic women who were doing their wash and waiting for their kids to get out of school. To cut to the chase, fully half these women did not know – in late October – who was running for president. Nor did they care.

The experts I talked to as I prepared my story were not surprised. They made excuses; people are too busy with kids, house, plumbing problems tp pay attention. Such people are discounted by the political canvassers. And pollsters, asking about, say Afghanistan, did not bother to ask if the voter knew where that country was. Indeed, even now the polls don’t reflect the ignorance of the people who answer these polls. I doubt if these hooligans know much of anything.

It’s not only beleaguered working people who are politically ignorant. I have it on good authority that at one time – years before we got into a war in the Middle East – a copy desk person at the Wall Street Journal was heard to ask, “Hey, what’s our style, Iran or Iraq?”

On a bus during one campaign, a political reporter for a major publication wrote that Harry Truman gave them hell in his 1948 race with Dwight Eisenhower. A foreign affairs reporter for a prominent publication once asked me who Dag Hammarskjold was. When I explained that he was the second secretary general of the United Nations, and was killed in a mysterious plane crash in 1961, the reporter said, “Well that was before my time.” I muttered, “So was Abe Lincoln.”

These may be isolated incidents, but they represent an ignorance among my press colleagues that I have encountered and am encountering still. How many reporters continue to write about the imminent crisis in Social Security without knowing how Social Security works? And now, I’ll bet that most reporters covering the White House can’t explain what’s in the health reform bills moving through Congress, so they can counter the garbage they’re hearing.

Nor are they looking beyond the inane questions about Obama’s birth to understand and probe the links between the birthers and the mobocracy seeking to lynch the health care bills and their supporters. At this writing, neither the Washington Post nor The New York Times, nor any White House reporter has gone after this story the way Rachel Maddow has.

But it’s the dangerous ignorance of the mobs that worry me most. One mob, for example confronted, threatened and yelled epithets at Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, the longest-serving member of Congress. How dare they?

I doubt if they knew that Dingell, a life-long member of the NRA, has also been a champion of the auto industry. His father was a great New Dealer who gave us the National Labor Relations Act. And Dingell, who took his father’s seat, has been trying for years to win universal health insurance. But what does a mob know? Especially when the press doesn’t itself know, or bothers to confront the mob with the truth.

As a result, the lies take hold. Imagine. The right-wing talkers call Obama a fascist, when they are encouraging the brown shirts of today. I doubt if any of these goons in the mobs even know what fascism, socialism or even Nazism is. I doubt if they know who fought in World War II.

Comedian Bill Maher has called the country “stupid.” I think ignorant is more accurate, although such ignorance produces stupidity. How else can one explain opposition to a perfectly reasonable (if too complicated) attempt at guaranteeing all of us (as well as them), access to quality health care.

Says Maher, 34 percent of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. Nearly a third of Republicans don’t believe Obama was born in the U.S. More than two-thirds of Americans don’t know what’s in Roe v. Wade. Twenty-four percent could not name the country we fought in the revolutionary war.

Sarah Palin and many of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates doubted Darwin because, Gallup found, 60 percent of Republicans believe God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago, and the poll found that 18 percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth.

Such ignorance, which leads to stupidity, makes them suckers for any charlatan or demagogue. Their Republican allies would kill Medicaid and Social Security. Yet they yell, “Keep government out of my Medicare.” They lose jobs and apply for unemployment insurance, part of the Social Security system, and denounce taxes and government without having the faintest idea of what taxes pay for. They are easily turned into a mob by agents working for insurance and drug companies, as Maddow has reported, and they don’t even catch on.

Many of them, alas, are white men who can’t come to terms with their racism. And Glenn Beck goads the mob (and makes a hefty salary) by fantasizing the poisoning of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I think he should be arrested and charged with threatening her life. Such overt threats are not protected speech. His vicious words falling on the mottled mind of an ignorant, stupid and racist oaf are dangerous. Some of them have already killed.

So, when will responsible Republicans and the press, with the kind of reporting, probing and editorializing that seems reserved only for the sex lives of politicians or the death of rock stars, quit shrugging and call a halt to this assault on our country?

EDITORIAL NOTE: Tomorrow is a special celebration at Time Goes By. Then on Wednesday, there will be a pre-August 20 post with information about Elders For Health Care Reform Day on Thursday. If you don't yet know what that is, see these two posts here and here.

Until then, you can warm up with Saul's Gray Matters column in Newsday from Saturday titled, Don't Fear Health Care Reform.

At The Elder Storytelliing Place today - Jeanne Waite Follett: Dear William


As the sign on my notice board says "Don't complain about the cost of education - think about the cost of ignorance".

It scares the hell out of me that such a large percentage of the population of the most powerful country in the world, currently waging war in two countries, is so ignorant and so worked up over some very nasty lies. Scares the hell out of me.

Great story that should be read by everyone...but wait, not everyone can read, or bother to read. How do we allow this to happen year after year? And I've been asking the same thing for the past few weeks. Has the Republican Party lost their moral authority altogether? Isn't their anyone from their ranks willing to stand up and denounce this ignorance? Cowards, all!

And don't even get me started on the journalists that have failed us...

Ditto on Steven's remarks! Great post as always Saul. I feel the rising of my former self, a much younger person who used to march, light candles, and actively try to make a difference.

Now, I use my blog but also have been emailing everyone in Congress, not just mine.

Media: hahahaha. They latch onto catch phrases. I can't remember the last time I saw an objective, factual, newscast.

Mornin' Saul & Ronni,
Am passing along your Insightful, Invigorating Gem which alludes to the creation of America by a few for the few who got involved. Political Inactivism and Awareness is an early American Tradition which in cycles experiences moments of participation followed by a culling of the people by the people for the people. History is repeating itself before our eyes and our ears.


Thanx Again,

Peter Lott Heppner

It is true what you write and worse they are proud of that ignorance and arrogance. Even people who are very nice in so many other ways pride themselves in not caring about politics while they either don't realize or choose to not realize that it impacts their daily lives. I think some of this goes to the spiritual heritage of this country where all that is required is faith and it also is not explored, plumbed or questioned for truth. It is very scary and more so right now for me than in many years. I see a lot of the same things I have seen before and worry where it's heading. if people don't get informed and speak out, we will get what the rabble, who have no idea of what they are talking about, the ones who yell loudest, they will be controlled and control what happens. This is not just the fault of Republicans but also Democrats.

They won't. It's going to take more than an earthquake to shake the "followers" from their path. I'm a well educated Democrat who's had it with politics. It's not just the lack of universal medical care that's hurting us but also the structure of the Politics in America.

I am astounded by how easily the Republican party can manipulate the evangelical Christian community. Even if a so-called Christian politician has been involved in a criminal/sexual/drug related scandal, he can still count on the votes of his evangelical constituency.

Where is Margaret Chase Smith when we really need her?

It saddens me to see a country like the USA, brought so low by stupidity and ignorance. From this side of the Atlantic, we have always I think worried about the right in America, seeing in them the same tendencies that allowed fascism to gain a hold in so many countries in Europe between the wars.

To see the word 'liberal' used as an insult by citizens of one of the great democracies, a democracy that owes its very existence to classical liberalism is truly appalling.

Thank you and Amen. There's a saying that when a swamp dries up, the poisonous things in it become more concentrated and more visible. I keep hoping we're seeing the drying-up process but it seems to be spreading instead of drying up. Thank you for your post, Saul, and thank you for your blog, Ronnie.

On the whole, I'd really prefer that both sides stop calling each other stupid and ignorant. But sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade. The total misrepresentation of healthcare reform has shaken me to my very core.

Saul: Well said! Those of us who blog have written at last one post concerning the chicanery going on during our alleged debate on health care. It looks as if the opposition's main goal is to stop any intelligent discussion. Why? The facts don't support their agenda.

Thanks for speaking out. And your comments on current reporters and news organizations are spot on.

And today, one of our Canadian senators is chiding Canadians for criticizing the U.S. as it seems we're "hectoring" and it may damage our trade relationship. Are we to sit idly by while our American friends wallow in ignorance on so many international issues? We are the United States' biggest trade partner and supplier of oil and natural gas - facts which would come as a surprise to most Americans. If we can't help set Americans straight on some of their the misconceptions, who can? After 9/11, Americans asked why does the world hate us? Ignorance combined with the "we're number one" attitude goes a long way to explain it. Thanks for writing this - it needed to be said.

I have complained loud and long about the shocking ignorance in my country. You have said it much better and I am going to print this post for future reference.

Thank you so much, Saul, for saying it. I know the choir will listen and I hope the choir can educate some of the more unenlightened.

Remarkable truth telling by a sage and honest man who was and remains deep in the bowels of the media. Thank you Saul, and thank you Ronni.

I wonder whether Americans are any more stupid than people in other countries. We are probably more arrogant, which helps prolong the stupidity.

What amazes me is how the right-wingers can lose elections and still win, by raising such a hullabaloo that most other people are afraid of them and give in to them. The moderates are not packing heat!

As for ignorance, I once listened to two women in my office talking about history (maybe it was Presidents Day) and realized that neither one of these high-school graduates knew the difference between the Revolutionary
War and the Civil War, let alone what centuries they were fought in, against whom or for what.

A lot of the ignorance is because many people just warm a chair in school until they get out, and then never read another thing--no newspapers, no books except perhaps romances or vampire novels. They watch silly
"reality" shows on TV, and as they get older perhaps the hot air on Fox News.

I am not calling them stupid. As somebody pointed out, if the average IQ is 100, that leaves around half below (maybe some are right at 100?) but these people are smart enough to have some curiosity, surely. What is the answer? How can they be educated if they simply don't care?

As an Australian, I've never been able to resolve a dilemma about ignorant people. One assumes that in America at least many of them don't vote, and thus don't have a significant impact. Here, with voting compulsory, the manipulation of their ignorance can produce the sort of mean-and-ugly government we suffered under George W Bush's "deputy sheriff" John Howard.

As a high school history teacher I can confirm tamar's comment about most Americans "warming a chair in school until they get out." This is a display of American culture's general disdain for "book learnin'."

Combine this disdain for education with an entertainment-numbed consumer mass, geographic isolation and an overly religious/superstitious tendency in the body politic and you have the disorder and near riots that have been seen in recent town hall meetings to "discuss" health care reform.

The best way I can describe my fellow Americans: We are enthusiastic accomplices in our own exploitation. We have become real-life, shameful examples of a Pink Floyd lyric: comfortably numb.

Sorry, my reference to tamar was actually posted by joni.

The problem seems to be democracy.

I keep asking myself and others "How did it get like this?" What is it that causes apparently normal human beings to wallow in thier ignorance like pigs in "stuff"? Why do they despise anyone who displays even modest signs of intelligence?

Maybe it's time to get out of Dodge and leave it to the book burners, the "patriots" and the other followers of Palin and Limbaugh.

Yes, I also prefer ignorant to stupid. Wars are caused by those who use antagonist language escalating into carrying guns in the crowded cities and backing warlike behavior by governments gone mad.

Where were the angry people who now protest providing health care to all when we singled out two countries to decimate bringing us into another
Great Depression?

IMO this was comic story considering the years that same thing happened under G.W. Bush... eg funny how Micheal Moore and friends forgot to mention that Clinton bombed Iraq for WMD, funny how democrats who blame Bush for housing crisis forget that Clinton passed legislation to deregulate investment banks (that Obama is now trying to re-regulat), and Bush in 2003 was trying to regulate Fanny and freddie mac, which democrats opposed claiming that they both were solid.

Both sides prey on ignorance, and both parties end up doing very similar "leadership", Obama withdrawal in Iraq was following timetable negotiated by Bush, Obama surge in Afganistan was modelled after Bush surge in Iraq, Obama uses millitary tribunals for most cases.

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