After the debacle of the first four years with President George W. Bush, I, and many others, were dumbfounded when he got re-elected. This is enough testimony in itself to substantiate the Q&A with Rick Shenkman, "The Ignorant American Voter" [June 23-30].
Shenkman says, "My No. 1 suggestion...is to ask every college [freshman] to take a current events quiz weekly." I also think that Shenkman missed an opportunity that would have real impact of future presidential elections. I think that all presidential candidates should take a quiz on current events, including world affairs and domestic issues. Then, the results of that quiz would be made public. Sen. John McCain would not score very well, and it would give us a better insight as to Sen. Barack Obama's ability to lead the nation.
While Shenkman's suggestion of every college freshman taking a weekly current events quiz is laudable, it smacks of elitism and would be too little too late because not all students go to college and those who don't also need to be knowledgeable enough to vote. Since voting age is generally 18, this weekly quiz should be started in high school when civic interests, ideals, impressions and obligations are being molded. I can remember taking a weekly current events quiz in high school civics in 10th grade and in American government as a senior. I assumed all other high schoolers did too.
James W. Reynolds
It must have taken a lot of courage for Rick Shenkman to write Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter. But this is a good observation. Americans are not interested in politics and care more about American Idols and other light fare. The worst part of it is that our elected officials and the media are aware of it and fully exploit it. Debates on TV talk shows are simply partisan politicians or "pundits" spewing propaganda. No depth, no enlightenment.
According to Rick Shenkman's book, 49 percent of the American electorate believes the president can suspend the Constitution. Perhaps they got that idea from the four Supreme Court justices who, for the most part, have been voting just that way! I've conducted discussions on the nature of democracy with students who are adamant that the right to vote is absolute, even for voters who are completely uninformed and whose vote might send us into war. Then I ask how they'd feel if they were accused of a capital crime and a juror stood up at the beginning of their trial to announce he was going home, would not listen to any evidence or witnesses and would just come back to vote guilt or innocence. That gets the thinking started.
Here we have, once again, a member of liberal arts academia, that profession someone once described as the last refuge of those who can't do or won't do, telling us common folk that we the people are too ignorant and too stupid to govern ourselves. We all need self-examination and criticism from time to time—even countries. But please, let us have it, with balance, and from those with accomplishment in the real world on their resume. Not those who have to publish or perish and therefore forever formulate such junk, year in and year out, in mountains of studies, just in order to say something, anything, however foolish.