Representative government presupposes an intelligent, efficient, and universal electorate. The character of such a government will ever be determined by the character and caliber of those who compose it. –The Urantia Book
Boy, are we in trouble.
Five plus years into the Iraq War, only one in seven Americans can find Iraq on a map. Only two out of five know and can name the three branches of the US government. Only one in five know that the US has 100 Senators.
So writes George Mason University historian and author of Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter, Rick Shenkman:
Why were Americans so susceptible to myth? Foreign policy specialists don’t usually spend a lot of time reflecting on this question. They should. It’s the key to what often goes wrong when foreign policy issues become the subject of public debate.
The answer is, I’m afraid, simple. Myths count more than facts in these debates because Americans don’t know many facts and don’t care to take the time to learn them. Unlike subjects with which they have first-hand experience–think gas prices–matters related to foreign countries are both exotic and incomprehensible to most Americans. This leaves them sitting ducks for wily pols who want to take advantage of their ignorance by playing on fear and patriotism.
The extent of Americans’ ignorance is underestimated.
Read more of Shenkman at Juan Cole‘s blog.