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Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2004 / 9 Tishrei, 5765

Tom Purcell

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Why are we encouraging the clueless to vote? | Rocker Ted Nugent is onto something.

According to Washington Whispers, Nugent is tired of MTV and musicians such as P. Diddy pushing young people to vote without pushing them to learn what is really going on.

"That's not good enough," says Nugent. "It's like saying, 'Well, there's a child drowning in the river. Just do something. Here, I'll throw him a cinder block.'"

Heh, heh, you got to like Nugent for his visual language, but as I said he's on to something. According to a new report by CATO, many voters don't have much idea what is going on.

An informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy, writes Ilya Somin, assistant professor of law at George Mason School of Law. His study is titled "When Ignorance Isn't Bliss: How Political Ignorance Threatens Democracy."

"If voters do not know what is going on in politics," writes Somin, "they cannot rationally exercise control over government policy."

I don't know how anyone can argue with that point. A while back, I made random phone calls asking people basic questions about the income tax. Most had no idea what their tax brackets were, how much taxes they actually paid, or how much Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cost them. No wonder so few people were in favor of tax cuts.

But if many voters are ignorant about taxes -- something that impacts all of us directly - how can they possibly make sound judgments about what our government is doing with the environment, workplace regulations, health care, energy, foreign policy or the millions of other things our government has its fingers in?

The answer: they don't. Somin writes few voters know what is in Bush's Patriot Act or, for that matter, the positions Bush has taken on a number of domestic issues.

And in their ignorance, voters are ripe to be exploited by clever politicians who are more interested in getting elected and holding onto power than they are about the truth or doing what is best for the public.

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Take Bush's tax cuts. Bush lowered income taxes for Americans in EVERY tax bracket. The facts show that every time the government has lowered taxes, the economy grows and tax receipts ultimately go up. The current recovery directly correlates to Bush's tax cuts. Sorry, but lower taxes are better than higher taxes.

But how has the tax issue been framed by the Democrats and many in the press? That the Republicans did it to favor the rich and shift more of the tax burden onto the middle class and the poor -- an outright mistruth, but one that resonates among folks who don't know better.

There are lots of other mistruths that come out at election time. That Republicans are trying to shove the elderly off bridges by slashing Medicare and Social Security benefits. That Republicans are trying to block minority voters from getting to the polls. That Iraq, problematic as it is, is worse than Viet Nam.

The press is supposed to monitor, investigate and expose mistruths, but if recent events are any indication, some of our esteemed journalists are more interested in spreading their own agendas and influencing elections more than they are in uncovering truth and reporting the facts -- which is what I thought the press is supposed to do.

In any event, Somin argues that as the government gets ever larger and government issues more complex, the average voter is less able to keep up. The more ignorant voters become, the more likely politicians will exploit their ignorance, and the more disconnected voters will be to the government they are supposed to direct. Somin recommends a smaller federal government, but with Republicans spending more than Democrats ever dreamed of, that won't likely happen.

That's why Ted Nugent is onto something. We don't need more people voting who don't know what is going on. We need more people who vote to learn more about what is going on.

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© 2004 Tom Purcell