Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Naughtful Naughties: What Went Wrong - The Growth of Ignorance in Public Policy

No poetry today. In fact, what I have for you today is more of a rant than anything else because I'm still flabbergasted by the results of the CBS News / NY Times Poll released Feb. 11, 2010, on the Tea Party Movement.

In particular, I'm flat-out astonished by two statistics. Only 2% of self-identified "Tea Partiers" know that tax rates have gone down since Obama took office. This means that 98% of them are flat-out factually ignorant about the tax rates that are allegedly their primary point of protest.* Is it any wonder that Sarah Palin is their queen? **

Nearly as astonishing is that only 12% of all Americans know that tax rates have gone down since Obama took office, but at least they have the excuse of not being so obsessed with taxes that they are running around waving tea bags at TV cameras. I would at this point pull out some comparative poll statistics on how many people know who won the last season of American Idol or Survivor, but why make this post any more depressing than it has to be?

I probably wouldn't be so irked if I didn't believe that public ignorance of the basic facts of our governance has grown significantly over the last decade. I truly believe this is one of the most important factors that has led to the disastrous partisanship we see these days in Washington, in our state capitals, and even in county governments.

Having abandoned their responsibility to be informed citizens, it seems that far too many people have decided to choose their positions based on a concept of politics as a sporting event in which the only thing that matters is that their side wins. And in this win-at-all-costs view of politics, lying and cheating are perfectly okay if it leads to electoral victory.

I would at this point like to lay the blame at the feet of convenient whipping boys like "the media" or "pundits" or "the blogosphere" or "those lying politicians" but I that is the attitude among too many citizens that has led us down this disastrous path. Because ultimately the media, the pundits, or even the polticians are not responsible for educating us.

We are responsible for educating ourselves. This is a democracy, and too many people in the last decade have abandoned that basic responsibility of citizenship. They think that somehow relying on Glenn Beck or Keith Olberman or some other entertainer for their "news" makes them educated. Listen up folks. It doesn't make you educated. It makes you ignorant. And the saddest part is that you are so ignorant that you don't even see the bars and walls of the prison that you have chosen.

In the last decade there was a phrase that was thrown around with quite a bit of disdain among the punditry, especially by some in the Bush Administration: "Fact-based politics."

Count me as a big fan of fact-based politics. Because I'm really, really, really tired of what ignorance-based politics has done to my country, and I would very much like to see a return to fact-based politics. I think it's our best chance to get out of this hole.

*Yeah, I know. Their primary purpose seems generally to be opposition to Obama being the president under any and all circumstances, but I'm willing to cut them some slack and credit them with taxes as their rallying point.

**How's that "hopey-changey" thing working out for me, Sarah? A lot better than electing an ignorant quitter as our vice-president would've worked out.


  1. Right on, John! It was time for someone to point this out. "Because ultimately the media, the pundits, or even the polticians are not responsible for educating us. We are responsible for educating ourselves." Yes! Its only when people start making decisions based on facts will this country turn around.

    But, speaking from our experience in this household, it's difficult to believe that Obama has lowered taxes when our Federal Withholding has gone up in 2010 even though our gross pay has not. Then again, I haven't yet investigated why this has happened, so I'm not yet ready to blame Obama. I'll have to educate myself first, before laying blame anywhere.

  2. I can't speak to withholding directly, but tax rates remained flat with the previous year, and several cuts were included in the stimulus bill. Withholding rates get fiddled with a lot by the feds. I'd have to go back and look at the data to be sure, but my recollection is that they usually drop in the year before a presidential election as the incumbents try to pump a bit more money into the economy before that 1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday in November. Then they bump back to their regular rate afterwards, and in the next quarter of the new administration everybody sees more money gone from their check, plus less of a tax refund or more taxes due on April 15 because the feds withheld less. ***But the tax rate itself and the total amount of taxes you pay doesn't change when withholding rates change, just the schedule on which those taxes are paid.*** This may be what happened, but honestly, I haven't looked into withholding rates at all.

  3. The Making Work Pay tax credit that was part of the stimulus package reduced withholding for 2009 so our paychecks were bigger. But according to the IRS website, the reduced withholding is supposed to extend to 2010. Maybe it's just reduced a bit less than in 2009.

  4. Interesting post and comments. It's very hard to educate oneself. The system seems to be deliberately opaque so that only experts of each little area can truly understand what's going on. Here in France, right now, within hospital reform, that's what's going on : they make an announcement, then schedules are changed or the legal texts regimenting that specific area are changed. It's very hard to keep up. The basic feeling is that of being overwhelmed. David facing a worldwide army of Goliaths.

  5. Wonderful post! These days it seems people have prided themselves on being educated by Glenn Beck.