Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Perverted Whims of Public Opinion

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson's cynicism in his piece titled "What If We're To Blame?" is hard felt. This has been one of our main concerns when watching the molding of public policy in this country: the lack of policy knowledge or the unwillingness to even learn about what we vote, complain or protest about. Such prevailing ineptitude can have grave consequences:

The problem of American democracy is (of course) democracy. We are on the cusp of an election that commentators have already imbued with vast significance if Democrats recapture part or all of Congress -- or if they don't. But here's something that no one's saying: Regardless of who wins, it won't make much difference for most of our pressing problems. We won't have a major new budget policy, energy policy or immigration policy. The election might not even much affect the Iraq war.

This is confirmed in a recent study by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement. Whereas we're encouraged by findings which show African Americans between the ages of 15 - 25 seem to be the most politically active than any other racial or ethnic group, we're also distressed by the juxtaposition of this other finding:

Most young Americans are misinformed about important aspects of politics and current events. For example, 53% are unaware that only citizens can vote in federal elections; only 30% can correctly name at least one member of the President's Cabinet (and of those, 82% name Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice); and only 34% know that the United States has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (compared to 27% who know that France holds a seat).

That's troubling. Hence, what's the purpose of voting if you don't know what you're voting for or about? But, we've always been suspicious of the hyped potential of youth voter turnout since many signs indicate 18 - 30 year old voters still don't have a solid grasp of the critical issues and a basic grounding in civics. Too many seem too content with being disillusioned, the likes of which plays directly into the hands of career politicians and party hustlers posing as public servants. They aren't accountable for not developing reasoned, effective and practical public policy because we don't know what it is they should be working on.