Monday, August 23, 2010

IN Touch: Electorate Ignorance (Not My Title!)

My sixteenth post on The Indianapolis Star's IN Touch blog is now online (I submitted it last week, but it wasn't posted until this morning). As I keep saying when I post these entries, I'm going to keep re-posting my IN Touch entries here (at least until someone from The Star asks me to stop). Go ahead and visit the post on the IN Touch page, anyway. Oh, and by the way: I had nothing to do with the awful title chosen for this post!

A story in The Indianapolis Star last week reported that a frightening number of Americans believe either that President Obama is a Muslim or are not sure of his religious affiliation. This raises two questions that we, as a society, must ask ourselves.

First, why does it matter what religion the president is? Forget that the Constitution specifically provides that we don't have religious tests for political office; don't we (or shouldn't we) elect politicians on the basis of their policy proposals rather than either the color of their skin or the place where they worship (or even whether they worship)?

Furthermore, what does it say about our electorate that so many people readily believe a fallacy? If it is so easy for our electorate to be misinformed on simple facts, then what does it suggest about our knowledge and understanding of the real issues that face our country? Issues like health care and the deficit and global warming are complicated. But if our electorate can be misled to believe that our president is not what he says he is, then how are we to tackle and understand issues that call for close attention, deep understanding, careful analysis, and, in all likelihood, compromise?

Most of us don't have the time to go out and research, in depth, each and every claim made or policy suggested. We have to rely on our politicians to tell the truth and our media to report things accurately and to tell us when our politicians aren't being truthful. Yet when the media abrogates those responsibilities either by failing to fully investigate or by repeating false claims and when segments of the media intentionally further the dissemination of misinformation or even help to financially support a political party, then how can we, as an electorate, trust anything that we hear? And if we can't trust either our politicians or the media, then how can we trust our ability to make informed and educated decisions about the future of our country.

We need to demand more from both our politicians and our media. And we need to be careful ourselves in examining the information upon which rely.

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