One Of The Things That's Wrong With Our Democracy


…is that citizens don’t take the time to educate themselves about what is going on in it. Here are the results of a just-released poll by the Kaiser Foundation. It looks like they set out to gauge Americans’ attitudes toward the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (tagged by the GOP as “Obamacare”), as well as towards health care reform in general. And indeed, such results can be found in the survey, neatly tabulated and professionally presented. But the importance of such findings is weakened to the point of near-total irrelevance when one takes into account the very first result Kaiser discovered regarding the public’s thoughts on health care reform:

In the wake of the health reform repeal vote in the U.S. House and the ongoing legal challenges over the individual mandate, nearly half the country either believes that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been repealed and is no longer law (22 percent) or doesn’t know enough to say whether it is still law (26 percent). Roughly half of Americans (52 percent) accurately report that the ACA is still the law of the land.

Got that? Only 52% of your fellow Americans know that “Obamacare” is, in fact, the law of the land. Here, let me (or rather, let Kaiser) communicate that visually for you:

(click to enlarge -note: not actual Kaiser Family Foundation Image. They’re all genteel & mature & stuff) ;o)

Pretty much renders the rest of the poll’s results meaningless, doesn’t it? I mean, who cares what these people think about this issue if barely 50% of them even know the most basic facts about it, right? I know it sounds harsh to say, but would you seek out or respect the opinion of a person regarding the efficacy of birth control methods if that person wasn’t aware that sex was the primary way pregnancies occurred? In a polled sample where 22% of respondents were convinced that sex was NOT how pregnancies happen, and another 26% weren’t really sure if that was how pregnancies happen, would you really trust the overall opinion trends from that data set regarding birth control?

If you sad “no way,” well…I’m with you. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that cut and dried. In a democracy, we HAVE to care what such people think, because they each possess the same number of votes as do the people who at least understand the fundamentals of the issues: one. And many of them DO vote (perhaps we could sell a new bumper sticker and make a fortune: “I’m a dumbass – and I vote!” I’m thinking tailgating at tea party rallies). That’s a real problem for everyone, because enough of these people can shift a vote on an important issue, even if they don’t know the first thing about that issue, and their opinions aren’t based in fact.

The sad truth of the matter – a truth that the Republicans figured out quite thoroughly, a long time ago – is: the less you know about something, the more easily-manipulated you are if you try to form an opinion about that thing. Hence, the fact-free if not actually sometimes fact averse universe of propaganda outfits like FAUX ‘News’. We in the reality-based community sometimes marvel at how such an enterprise as FAUX, purportedly about facts and analysis of those facts just like every other news outlet throughout history, can function so ironically. Why, we wonder, doesn’t it collapse under it’s own weight of self-contradiction? Why, in short, don’t people “wake up?”. Why does FAUX continue to enjoy such high ratings, despite their obvious, pervasive falsity?

The answer is: because their audience doesn’t want to wake up. They’re being told a story-line that fits in with what they already suspected – even, as we see above, if what they suspected doesn’t in any comport with reality – and having that story-line confirmed and reinforced is simply both easier and more comforting than discovering the actual truth of the matter, especially if discovering the truth entails having to either change their beliefs or – heavens! – admit they were wrong about something. The humorist Don Marquis once remarked that “if you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.” It is this dynamic which keeps many people from ever changing their views about anything.

Fortunately, in our democracy, we do not issue current-events literacy tests for voting. That way lies ugly totalitarianism. Unfortunately, the result of this inclusiveness is that a lot of badly misinformed people cast votes based on beliefs about the state of things which are simply factually false. What to do about that remains an open question, and – I suspect – a problem which will never have an easy or quick answer, because the answer is: education. The left in general tends to win more arguments in the political sphere (and by “win,” I mean at the actual ballot box) the better-educated people are. Our ideas tend to be better solutions for the greatest number of people, whereas the GOP’s solutions tend to product the greatest benefit for those at the top of the socio-economic ladder. In a one-person-one-vote democracy, such ideas would always lose a straight up vote, because there are a lot fewer people at the top than there are in the entire rest of the population. So, to win arguments (and especially elections), the GOP has to rely upon misinformation, misdirection, and hoping to be able to convince Joe and Jane Average to vote against their own best interest. The only way to do that is to convince Joe and Jane that things are not as they seem; to get them to believe Karl Rove (or whomever) instead of their lying eyes, as it were. They’ve gotten quite good at it. But our job remains easier: we have to tell people the facts and offer them solutions that are actually better for them. So let’s keep at it until shameful results like this are unheard of, instead of shoulder-shrug-inducing everyday occurrences.