Saturday, 27 December 2003

Blah, humbug: blame sanctimonious pundits

Steven Taylor links approvingly to a Jonah Goldberg column lamenting the lack of political knowledge in the electorate.

At some point, I’ll have meaningful thoughts about the column (i.e. something to say beyond “Goldberg’s wrong”). Unfortunately, now isn’t that time; for some reason, driving through a landscape of endless conifers in eastern Mississippi and western Alabama has sapped my ability to compose coherent arguments.

Tuesday, 13 January 2004

Now I know why I was going to complain

A few weeks ago, I promised a response to a Jonah Goldberg piece whining about ignorant voters. Now, as Brett Marston points out, Goldberg is advocating bringing back literacy tests on The Corner (just in case you needed another reason besides John Derbyshire not to send Bill Buckley any of your hard-earned cash). Quoth Goldberg, in typical cacophonous Corner fashion:

Hear, hear for Jon [Alder] on that score. But I’d go one better. I think it’s about time we toughened up the requirements for voting. Literacy tests, poll taxes and the like may have once been legitimately suspect because they were used to disciminate against blacks. But today, I simply see no principled reason we couldn’t apply some sort of test to everybody. Indeed, I would be more comfortable having newly naturlized immigrants decide the future of this country at the ballot box than leaving it up to, say, typical white 18-22 year-olds. I know that the immigrants can pass a civics test. I have no such confidence in the kids at my local malls.

Quoth Brett:

Democracy at the NRO. The poor and uneducated need not apply. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Since I know nobody’s going to read my dissertation to find out what I think of the elitist line of argument, let me simply state that:

  1. Citizens have no “civic duty” to be informed about politics.
  2. Citizens have no “civic duty” to vote.

Not only is it irrational for voters to learn about politics, it’s downright immoral to insist that people participate in the political process, especially since, for J. Random Jackass working at the meatpacking plant, the marginal difference between Howard Dean and George W. Bush is zero—no matter how much Dean and Bush try to tell him otherwise.

You want to know why people say they don’t know enough about particular candidates? It’s because we (political scientists, media types, and what have you) insist that it’s important that they know the minutae of Howard Dean’s foreign policy views or Wes Clark’s tax plan or Dennis Kucinich’s DSM-IV diagnosis. The dirty little secret of politics is people don’t make decisions based on that stuff—even if they do know it. Ultimately, it’s more about “who do I trust more,” “whose politics seem closest to mine,” and “do I prefer people who look like thumbs over people who resemble chimps” than “Bush is going to give me $32.65 more take-home pay a week than Dean.” Which is as it should be. There are enough of us warped political junkies as it is; let’s not add to the population.

Update: Brett Marston has more thoughts on this topic. Incidentally, if you—like Brett—“still want to read [my] dissertation,” it's all online here, along with pretty much everything I’ve written for conferences (or otherwise had my name slapped on).

Monday, 2 February 2004

Loyalty Oafs

I think I’ll let Earl Black speak for me on this bit of unmitigated idiocy by South Carolina Democrats:

“It sounds like one of the stupidest ideas I’ve heard in a long time,” said Rice University political scientist Earl Black, formerly of the University of South Carolina. “This makes no sense at all. It just steps on the effort of South Carolina Democrats to create a situation to build the party.”

What idea is so stupid? According to The State:

Voters who appear at their polling places will be asked to sign an oath swearing that “I consider myself to be a Democrat” before casting their ballots.

Hey, why stop there? Take Jonah Goldberg’s advice and reinstate literacy tests. Better yet, set up a nice collection box at the door to collect everyone's poll tax. Good thing the state legislature didn’t take down that Southern Cross from its front lawn, since it seems mighty appropriate about now.

More on this story at Jeff Quinton’s place and suburban blight.

Update: The Dems dropped the loyalty oath today faster than most single women lose Dennis Kucinich’s phone number. And Ryan of the Dead Parrots wonders if the Democrats’ news release somehow got lost in the shuffle, as it was dated Sunday—so the damaging stories never should have run.