What Do You Do When the Voters Are Stupid?

This story from today’s LA Times is just, well, frightening:

Even if they admire Palin’s attempt to juggle political ambition, an infant son with Down syndrome and a pregnant unwed daughter, these women say that maternal grit is not enough to win their votes.

Waitress Judy Artice, “Miss Judy,” as she is known at Glisan’s roadside diner, declared Palin “the perfect candidate” after watching her Wednesday speech. That said, Artice had already decided that her vote would go to the first candidate who mentioned gasoline prices.

“And — I’ll be danged — it was Obama,” Artice, 46, said between servings of liver and onions during the lunch rush.

Now, the fact that they’re voting for the same candidate as I am aside, the reasoning here is just downright frightening. As Kevin Drum notes, neither candidate will have any effect whatsoever on the short term effect of gasoline, and basing your vote on the fact that Obama’s convention was first and he made sure to mention gasoline prices makes about as much sense as flipping a coin in the booth. But more than that, I think, this illustrates a very large problem with democracy and general, and the current state of the American public in general; we’re asking people who understand absolutely nothing about the major issues under discussion to decide which candidate should be tasked with implementing national policy on those issues. It’s extremely paradoxical in that it doesn’t make any sense, and that it encourages politicians to keep the populace ignorant for their own gain.

Take energy for example. The short answer for short term energy prices is that there’s nothing government can do about it. No matter the policy being discussed, whether it’s drilling, developing alternatives, building more avenues of mass transit, etc., the effects won’t be felt for years. In the short run, the only answer to high energy prices is better conservation and more efficient uses of energy. Consolidate your car trips, keep up your maintenance schedule, turn of lights when you’re not in a room, etc. But people don’t want to hear that, because it requires them to be conscious about what they’re doing day to day, and make noticeable changes to their lifestyle. And when you have a political party telling you, inaccurately, that you don’t have to do that, well obviously they’re going to look pretty attractive to you. Afterall, everyone loves to get something for nothing, even if on some level we, supposedly, know we can’t have it.

In a healthy democracy, this is where an astute media would enter the picture. When a party bases an electoral strategy on the idea that if we just give oil companies the rights to drill everywhere in the country oil prices would plummet, a healthy news media would be there to cite study after study showing that claim to simply be false. In other words, they would dig for the truth, and strive to make sure their viewers were well informed citizens capable of making rational decisions about policy based infact. But the American news media has been so beaten over the head by the right-wing with accusations of bias that theyre scared to death to do their jobs. Objectivity and reporting have been replaced by “balance” in all things, and the foundation of democratic government, an informed voter, is what has suffered for it. There’s no such thing as “fact,” or reality, in America anymore, there’s merely “Republicans say,” “Democrats respond,” or “some experts say,” no matter how small a number that may be, or how cedible their “expertise.” Everything has to be presented as a two sided argument, even if one side has no credibility.

It’s really hard to overstate how damaging this is to the very fabric of society. Democratic societies can simply not survive if the voters are making decisions based on ignorance or partisan bickering. People cannot be allowed to be told that they can have something for nothing by a political party looking to win elections, because they can’t have something for nothing, and by voting on the idea that they can, we inevitably wind up with policies that do great harm to the country. The media has to live up to their responsibility to inform the public, not to defer to political parties. Partisan actors, be they Republicans, Democrats, or any other party, simply cannot be expected to present information in an accurate way. It’s not in their interest most of the time. So it’s in that sense that the media has, perhaps, the most fundamental role in all of the democratic process, to sort out the truth in the argument, and to tell the public what is true and what’s not. If that benefits one party more than another, so what? The party on the short end of the stick should be more in touch with reality, or maybe lie a little less. But the media absolutely should not make up the difference for them, because the only people hurt in that equation are the voters, and the country as a whole.