American Democracy: The 10 Alarm Fire We're Ignoring





Mr. Shenkman, the author of the new book, Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter (Basic Books, June 2008), is an associate professor of history at George Mason University and editor of the university's History News Network.


What was I thinking when I decided to name my book: Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter? I'm starting to wonder. Reviewers are finding the title easy to mock (I knew they would). And it's led one or two to conclude I'm the stupid one. Still, I'm convinced it was the right title.

First, I think book readers will understand that I am not talking about them, contrary to what one reviewer suggested (no, I’m not going to name this person). I am talking about people who don't think hard about politics not those who do. Somebody buying my book is obviously interested in the subject and willing to explore it.

Second, the title was meant to be provocative but that's all. My purpose in going for this kind of title was to try to get a national debate going about a topic most of us would rather not talk about. My goal was not to characterize the American people but our politics. It would be stupid to say that the American people are stupid--as stupid as saying the American people are smart. It's impossible to generalize--and silly. But our politics are often stupid. And there are times when no other word, harsh as it is, seems to capture the essence of the turn politics have taken.

Over the last few months we've had national debates about Barack Obama's bowling score, Hillary Clinton's knocking back a tumbler of Scotch, and John McCain's non-stop smiling. Earlier in the primary season there were stories about the candidates' sex lives. I read in the New York Times of all places that Elizabeth Edwards had popped a rib when she and her husband were copulating and that the wife of Rudy Giuliani referred to her husband as a "high testosterone" kind of guy. (Of course, as the past publisher of the paper once cleverly remarked, it's not sex when the New York Times does this kind of story, it's sociology.)

What's the harm? Years ago I would have thought stories like these merely part of the fun and frolic of an American campaign and nothing to worry about. But maybe we should be worried. These should be the side dishes of a campaign but in our era they have become the main course. Superficiality is ubiquitous.

What convinced me that these kinds of stories are alarming evidence of a major problem? Our debates about 9/11 and Iraq. As became irrefutably clear in scientific polls undertaken after 9/11 by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), millions of Americans simply cannot fathom the twists and turns that complicated debates take.

In January 2003, three months before our invasion of Iraq, the survey-takers found that a majority of Americans falsely believed that “Iraq played an important role in 9/11.” Over the next year and a half PIPA polls indicated that a persistent 57 percent believed that Saddam Hussein was helping al Qaeda at the time we were attacked. (Other polls came up with higher numbers. For instance, in September 2003 a Washington Post poll found that 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks.) In the spring of 2004 the 9/11 Commission flatly stated that Saddam had not provided support to al Qaeda. The Commission’s findings received saturation coverage. Nonetheless, in August of the same year, according to a PIPA poll, 50 percent were still insisting that Saddam had given “substantial” support to al Qaeda. (A full two years later, in 2006, a Zogby International poll indicated that 46 percent of Americans continued to believe that “there is a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”)

The illusion that Saddam was behind 9/11 had real-world consequences. A poll for Investor’s Business Daily and the Christian Science Monitor cited by the PIPA researchers found that 80 percent of those who backed the Iraq War in 2003 said that a key reason for their support was their belief that Saddam had ties to al Qaeda.

Another clear indication of public ignorance concerned the claim that Saddam possessed “weapons of mass destruction,” which became such a ubiquitous part of the national conversation that the phrase soon became known by its initials: WMD. Poll results show that the voters were quick to absorb the administration line, but only slowly came to realize that they had been snowed. As late as the spring of 2004 a clear majority remained unaware that experts such as Hans Blix (head of the UN weapons inspectors), David Kay (the former head of the Iraq Survey Group), and Richard Clarke (the national coordinator for counterterrorism) had firmly concluded that Iraq lacked WMD at the time of our invasion, even though their findings had received wide publicity.

Finally, there was the question of world opinion. By all measures the Iraq War was unpopular around the world. On the eve of the war millions protested, bitterly denouncing George W. Bush and the United States. In several countries these were the largest anti-American rallies ever held. Opposition was strong even in countries that were traditional American allies, such as Spain. Most Americans, however, did not comprehend the isolation of the United States. According to PIPA, the majority either believed that world opinion was about evenly divided or actually favored the war (31 percent were in the second camp). Only 35 percent realized that the planned invasion had drawn far more criticism than support.

Given all this, a robust debate about public opinion would seem warranted. If Americans cannot think straight about events of the magnitude of 9/11 and the Iraq War, what can they think straight about? But no such debate has been forthcoming. Instead, we have had endless arguments about the media and the nefariousness of the Bush administration. Both of these arguments have merit, in my opinion. But the real problem is with Americans. Too many simply pay so little attention to politics that they are sitting ducks for manipulative politicians.

I acknowledge in the book that Americans are good at recognizing success and failure. After several years of being bamboozled they finally came round to the view that the war was a mistake. But while mistakes are inevitable we should be able to avoid the ones based on flagrant misinformation, as this one was. The reason we weren't was because too many voters simply didn't take the time to investigate the administration's claims.

The fact is politicians count on voters being stupid. They play on peoples' emotions, exploit their fears, and summon myths from the depths of the national culture to advance their hold on the voters' hearts and minds. Were the voters smarter the pols would play politics differently.

If politicians were angels we wouldn't need smart voters. But they aren't. So we do.

Are we worse off than in the past? We are. Half a century ago voters were better prepared to take on the responsibilities of good citizens, this despite the fact that they were less well educated then than now. (In 1940 six in ten Americans didn't get past the 8th grade. Today most have spent some time in college.)

So what happened? Television is a big part of the explanation. Once television replaced newspapers as the chief source of news – this happened around 1965—shallowness was inescapable as Americans began judging politicians by how they looked and acted. Another factor was the collapse of the traditional two-party system and unions. Once voters stopped taking their cues from party and labor bosses they were largely on their own as they sorted through the complicated choices they face.

We need to talk about all this, even it's uncomfortable doing so. We cannot keep playing politics as we have and expect different results.


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David Bosworth - 4/21/2009

Here we are 10 months since the above comment. The methods you describe were employed with ACORN, areas with more Dem. votes then there were registered voters in total. The dying of a great many of the reliable, common sense, middle-American majority of an elder generation gave way to an even greater number of a huge wave of children of a generation of Bill Ayers-style "educational" system indoctrination. I think that strong quiet core that remembered the days before superficiality, and which helped keep us all closer to the track, is pretty much gone. You still hear claims that they will make themselves heard again but I think they are gone.Of the remaining hope for undoing the current damage being done here, now, in April 2009, I think we are left with a high number of them, unfortunately, being just who the "progressives" have always characterized them ALL to be: actually ignorant, uneducated, hillbilly types, many with real shades of racism, who often throw around labels and names they've heard but don't really understand.Just the type that elicits ridicule and disdain from liberals, for sure, but increasingly from anybody left in the undecided or open-minded middle.


Joseph S Harrington - 8/3/2008

To suggest American politics is "stupid" misses an important point. There are simply times when a people and its leaders choose to believe what they want to believe, and are conveniently ignorant of inconvenient realities.

The Germans of the first half of the 20th century were arguably the best educated, most knowledgeable nation the world had ever seen up to that time, and perhaps since. But they tragically chose to embrace psuedo-scientific drivel in their politics. It not that they lacked the aptitude to know better (they learned quickly after 1945), it's just that the drivel served other needs for them.

Lumping Saddam with al Qaeda served the adminstration's purposes of expanding the "war on terror" to eliminate a genuine nuisance and assert American control in an oil-rich region. Many Americans knew this and agreed, but understood that an invasion needed a defensive rationale. They most certainly were NOT stupid, although events would show that our course of action was unwise.


Julian Feuerbach - 6/18/2008

Right on the money! Anatol Lieven is one of the few intellectuals who reflects on the impact that the notion of the American Creed has on the American public. And of course, he is a Brit...


nic riley - 6/17/2008

Or at least a word that is conspicuously missing from this analysis, is NATIONALISM.

The current administration knows that, while Americans may be stupid, they're not stupid enough to think or act "unamerican."

So, if they tell you something is a matter of national ______ (blank could be filled with "security"; "pride"; or any other abstraction), then you're bound by custom to agree (and support) or you face the frightening prospect of becoming an Unamerican.

It's a lesson taken from the likes of Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, etc. It works like a charm!


Maarja Krusten - 6/15/2008

See
http://www.newsweek.com/id/139440/output/print
a story from the June 9, 2008 issue of Newsweek which carries the subheading, "With 'elitist' a choice slur, candidates are trying to win over the new 'It' demographic: 'low-info voters.'"


HNN - 6/14/2008

You're right!


Maarja Krusten - 6/13/2008

You mention TV as a factor. Of course, television has changed a great deal since 1965. Viewers once turned to NBC or CBS for nightly news (and later, as ABC established a more robust news presence, to that network, as well). Now we have niche TV. Viewers who turn to MSNBC are unlikely also to tune in to the Fox News Channel. And vice versa.

The same is true with the marketplace for books. Those who have read Huffingtonpost blogger Stephen Ducat's book, The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity are unlikely also to have read Ann Coulter's book, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right. I haven't read either, I've just read about them and picked them out as representative of differing viewpoints from among several books of that nature.

My point is that with so many specialized outlets, there are fewer and fewer places where large groups of people come together either to get facts, analysis or opinion as they once did when they turned to CBS and Walter Cronkite for news and Eric Sevareid for analysis.


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 6/13/2008

The Democrats have terrible trouble trying to register the underclass to vote in America's big cities, partly because they read and write only with extreme difficulty. And then, often, after liberals have registered such people, many or most will fail to show up at the polls on election day. This goes on year after year followng one voter registration "drive" after another, in city after city. Progress, if any, is terribly modest, despite immense amounts of time and money spent on it.

This is in no small part because such people are ashamed of their illiteracy and ignorance, and aware they suffer from both. When given a slip and told to write their name and address they cannot read where it says "name" and "address," and have to confess this to someone. That is not fun. It is mortifying. How much more pleasant it is to just stay at home and not suffer embarrassment in public! With a little luck, they can can recline on a couch and watch "The Dating Game," instead. With a beer! And a mate. And because they are illiteate, they are so woefully uninformed that their opinion en bloc really should not be elevated into an elections tie-breaker, anyway. Also, their vote is often paid for (with cash) by ward heelers and other low life, who get the money from filthy rich liberals in quest of legislation to abet their very shady commercial activities. Such voters quite often are in lock step with completely unethical demogogues, and we are probably much better off without their input in the process. We are lucky, in fact, that the big city schools are so dreadful, and their unions so destructive, because what was once a fine public school system now fails miserably, with no hope of improvement. Were this not the case many more of these ignoramuses would be voting like robots regularly, with Oz somewhere behind the curtain at the controls.


Maarja Krusten - 6/13/2008

Yes, that's what I've heard also, that you can take the test at different times and get different, reasonable results. As you say, it's regarded as a snapshot.


Jim Good - 6/12/2008

My understanding of Myers-Briggs is that it's perfectly normal to get different outcomes at different points in life. It's intended as a snapshot of your current preferences rather than an indication of immutable personality traits.


R.R. Hamilton - 6/12/2008

Literacy tests are a solution. You can't even see the problem:

"Half a century ago voters were better prepared to take on the responsibilities of good citizens....

So what happened? Television is a big part of the explanation. Once television replaced newspapers as the chief source of news – this happened around 1965—shallowness was inescapable as Americans began judging politicians by how they looked and acted. Another factor was the collapse of the traditional two-party system and unions. Once voters stopped taking their cues from party and labor bosses they were largely on their own as they sorted through the complicated choices they face."


In other words, "We used to have smarter citizens who voted as they were told. We need to go back to that."

We used to have smarter voters because we had literacy tests. We used to make voting "difficult": In Texas, until we became "enlightened", if one wanted to vote in the November election, he needed to register by January (and pay the evil, racist, sexist, and homophobic $2 poll tax). Maybe that's why the voters were smarter.

Do you think the electorate got dumber by accident, by happenstance? Quo bono? It was in the interest of certain political ideologies to move dumber people into the electorate and to dumb down the smart people.

Yes, it is true that blacks and hispanics will score lower on voter literacy tests -- just as they will on any test of intelligence. And whites will score lower than Asians. That is no argument against literacy tests, especially when the point of the test is to educate voters. The test could remain the same for many years: people could have multiple opportunities to pass. The point of the test would not be to exclude but to educate.

I would suggest we could start with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's civic literacy test that was feature on this site. It has 60 questions on American political science, history, and economics. I made a perfect score, so it's not that hard. Why not use that test and say that voters need to answer at least, say, 35 of 60 correct -- and they can take the test, say, three times a year until they pass?

I have a feeling though that those who propose a standard-free "educated voter" mean to teach the people what to think, not how to think:

"How many Republicans do we have in class today? ... Oh, well see, that's the kind of ignorance we're talking about."


matt a townsend - 6/12/2008

The voting public obviously has a responsibility to be informed, but I find your using PIPA surveys quite ridiculous, and I'll tell you why. I was uniformed about the war as anyone until I got high-speed cable and started to consume alternative news sources. Most Americans consume news on TV (owned by huge corporations with conflicted interests), radio (same conficts) or local newspapers which can be a crapshoot.

Get this through your head. THE PROBLEM IS CORPORATE OWNERSHIP AND CORPORATE CONSOLIDATION OF MEDIA!!!

I guarantee that if the Iraq war were to happen now, it wouldn't happen because more and more people get their news information from non-corporate sources.

The entire meme of your book sounds highly flawed and quite naive.

The American public has shown that when provided with the information, they make sound choices. In the lead-up to the Iraq war they weren't given sound information, by both the political establishment (I don't think we have to go far to confirm that the WH mislead the public) and the media (Judith Miller, Michael Gordon of the NYT, Meet the Press, paid off military generals on the networks).

I think it's pretty simple. Independent and quality media outlets equal an informed Democracy and that doesn't exist.

I found your appearance quite appalling.


Maarja Krusten - 6/11/2008

Interesting. You may be right that of the people who read about Myers Briggs or communication (Prof. Deborah Tannen's books, etc.) on their own, more are women than men. But there are many professions and workplaces where men and women study these issues in order to be more effective managers. I think that is most likely to occur in collaborative or team oriented workplaces morse si than ones which rely on a top down and very hierarchical approach. The more you rely on the art of persuasion, the more it behooves you to understand how differently people process your presentations.

Foreign Affairs and People--interesting combo. But one that requires reading. See what Rick reported a year ago about news sources at
http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=111165&;bheaders=1

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james joseph butler - 6/11/2008

I've taken the Briggs test twice and had a different personality both times. Both rang true at the time. Pardon my genralization but I think women are more interested in such tests because women are more interested in other people.
Speaking of women, voters and how to better inform would be voters, Yahoo has a scary poll up right now regarding future first ladies, sorry Bill. 61% of American voters according to Rasmussen Reports are "somewhat influenced" and 22% are "strongly influenced" in their voting by their feelings for the candidates spouses. Over 70% of female voters are influenced by the spouses.
Everything in America is sold through personality stories. If we want voters to think and understand issues we have to connect issues to how they effect individuals and their families. Foreign Affairs and People have to merge if we want voters to recognize the value of Iraqi lives and to save us from ourselves.


Maarja Krusten - 6/11/2008

Rick, you’ve noted that the people who are interested in the issues you discuss in your book are less likely to be the sources of the problem you describe.

I think you tend to be right in saying that. HNN’s readers tend to be pretty well informed, although they do sometimes reject each others' citations of certain news stories from certain outlets (CNN, FNC, MSNBC) depending on where they stand politically.

How do you reach the others? It seems to me that you need a multi-faceted solution that takes into account the large number of people who are not inclined to immerse themselves in lengthy articles and history books. And who catch a few news headlines here and there (by clicking through Internet sites or having a TV or radio playing in their house) rather than sitting down with a newspaper or news magazine.

If you look at the factors I listed above, historians face challenges in reaching a wide audience because of the degree of diversity in personality types among the population.
If you look at the link I provided above, you’ll see that “Studies estimate that 75% of the population is Extraverted, while only 25% is Introverted.” That means 75% (the Extraverts) “are energized by having interactions with others, and may often speak without thinking something through. They are people of action.” By contract, “Introverts (I) prefer quiet reflection.” If, as I suspect, many historians are Introverts rather than Extraverts, they need to keep in mind that they represent a minority personality type in terms of Myers Briggs Type Indicators.

The other indicators do not show so large a split. The Judging (drawn to planned, structured situations) and Perceiving (drawn to open, unstructured situations) split is said to be 55-45. The Thinking (drawn to logic and objective analysis) and Feeling (drawn to doing things because it “feels” right) split reportedly is the only one that shows a little bit of gender difference. The Thinking to Feeling split reportedly is 60-40 for men and 40-60 for women.

These indicators show up in various combinations. Based on my experiences, I suspect many -- but not all -- historians and lawyers (male and female alike) would be ISTJ. Even among those who write on HNN you see differing temperaments among the historians, of course. Not all are ISTJ, certainly. But if most of the population is E, and many are P and many are F then an outreach effort that is effective for ISTJ types isn’t the best way to reach them. You have to get inside the heads of people who sometimes look for information and process data somewhat differently than you do.

As I’ve pointed out before, people have little leisure time. Given some free time, I’m inclined to sit down with a nice, long history book. Or to surf the web and to read about current events. That’s a personal choice that fits my personality type. Other people use their leisure time for different hobbies. People decompress from work and chores in many different ways. How do you reach so diverse a group?

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Maarja Krusten - 6/11/2008

You raise some interesting questions, Rick. It's hard to get a handle on this question because voters are so very different in how they approach this. You see this here on HNN. These differences don't seem to be based on gender or level of education. I've seen some very well educated men at HNN who have expressed strong emotions in their postings. At times this has been direct, at times it has come through in metamessags. The same is true for some women, as well. There are other posters who may only hold a B.A. but who articulate their points very effectively. You have to think about the field in which someone has succeeded professionally, not just their gender or level of educaqiton.

Myers Briggs indicators help to explain why that is the case. Lawyers, historians and people drawn to analytical fields often are ISTJ. There's a good explanation of what these terms mean at
http://www.counseling.mtu.edu/myers_briggs.html
The author of the article at the Michigan Tech site notes that a profile "may change over the years as your personal and professional circumstances change. It's probably better to think of your Myers- Briggs indicator type as a 'snapshot' of your personality right now than as some kind of lifelong 'window on your soul'" that is unchangeable."

Given everything that goes into how people attain and absorb information, I don't think the answer to the questions you raise can be found solely by looking at college education. There are plenty of Americans who still work and support families without having attained college degrees, althouh that is harder and harder to do given the nature of the job market.

And then there is the fact that the voting population is split among three groups: there are strong adherents to the two major party with a group of unaffiliated Independents in between. I know some people (men and women alike) who are single issue voters and who almost appear to screen out information related to other issues, as a result. I know others who when elections come up, shake their heads over the difficulty of knowing whom to vote for. For many reasons, there seems to be a great deal of variety in "the people."


HNN - 6/11/2008

Fixing one problem--ignorance--by creating another--divisive literacy tests that undoubtedly would exacerbate tensions between blacks, whites, and hispanics-- is not my idea of a serious solution. I don't want any part of it.


Stephen Ewen - 6/10/2008

Shenkman's argument is about changing American political culture. In that vein, improving the country's literacy is essential. See http://www.litpresident.org/


Stephen Ewen - 6/10/2008

I believe that it would be an ENORMOUS improvement if historians, political scientists, sociologists, and other academicians carried out political debates. Journalists never have been up to the task.


R.R. Hamilton - 6/10/2008

... you'll advocate re-instituting literacy tests for voting. Until you do so, you're just being annoying.


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 6/10/2008

Without the power our country invests in the masses we would certainly have lost our proprerty rights and our gun rights and hence our liberty long ago. Buckley was absolutely right when he said it would be better to be governed by the first 535 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty.

The best thing to do is what we used to do: Imbue all children with a huge reverence for the Constitution and the Founders, whether they understand what was accomplished by them or not, and let them instinctively oppose all who would change the Constitution. That fifth column has grown more numerous lately, especially in academia. (How long has it been since you were told some part of the Constution is now "obsolete?") Fortunately, the stupid hicks don't buy that opinion, and if we're lucky, they never will. This nation has advanced extraordinarily well under its obsolete old charter, and continues to astonish the world in wealth creation and human progress.

It was probably a mistake to extend the franchise in 1920, because this raised the importance of smiles, sex appeal, gossip, and other emotional nonsense in the results of our elections. That we have survived that damage, after a fashion, testifies to just how ingenious the Constitution was before that harm was inflicted.


Kevin Ashile - 6/10/2008

You are making the mistake of putting value in the "liberal education" that is trumped in so many colleges nowadays. Fact of the matter is, while specialization does limit the breadth of a college student's education and is in many aspects unfulfilling, is the best way to ensure that our college graduates are smart. I remember one of my teachers introduced their "liberal" course as "information that is useless other than for cocktail parties." America stopped producing mechanics and scientists; we import them now, usually from places that do have specialized education and constantly outscore us on standardized tests. Sure, you can make the argument that countires like China do not have the most discerning and politically involved populace (I would disagree with you,) but there are other countries like Korea and Finland, which are democracies, which do specialize students, and which have the top scoring students on the exams.

However, you are right in that the problem lies deeper. America does not encourage any specialization. We do not have an adequate number of trained teaching professionals that have proven themselves by continuosly being examinated (this is the standard MO of Finland, I believe.) Once in a great while, the Oresident parades out in front of cameras and says some blurp about America needing more engineers and scientists, but nothing gets done. Meanwhile, you turn on the TV and the most scientifically-inclined character is always the nerd or some other social misfit. At the same time, our education problems are being solved by fiber optics cause both business and government can outsource the important scientific and engineering jobs out of the country since a physicist in India can probably contribute just as much as one trained in the US. The most common advise I have heard is to get a job back in my home country working for a US-based multinational because, if I know the native language and customs, I can make more money than I ever could here. Soon, the only intelligent jobs that will remain are doctors and lawyers. Lawyers can claim that foreign knowledge is not up to par with their own, robotics has not developed far enough that we can outsource doctors (doctors do claim the same thing as lawyers, which I find a little odd,) and both have a good lobby.


Jim Good - 6/9/2008

"Are we worse off than in the past? We are. Half a century ago voters were better prepared to take on the responsibilities of good citizens, this despite the fact that they were less well educated then than now. (In 1940 six in ten Americans didn't get past the 8th grade. Today most have spent some time in college.)"

I hit on this issue in a comment on your blog some time back. I don't see how this sort of reasoning proves that Americans are better educated than they were in 1940. Most college educated Americans who are alive today went to colleges that had been corrupted, in my opinion, by a vocational model of higher education. How does a degree in engineering, or any number of other disciplines, really prepare one to be a better citizen? Perhaps this raises a chicken or the egg sort of problem, but it seems to me education began going downhill before television had much of a cultural impact. In fact, you can trace the trend toward narrow specialization back at least to the late-nineteenth-century. That specialization has been materially beneficial, but it has also made us shallow and easily manipulated. My broader point is that I think the problem has far deeper roots, and is thus more intractable, than you seem to admit.


james joseph butler - 6/9/2008

And the sad truth is the majority of Americans will take the bait again if we're attacked by terrorists before election day. John McCain's foreign policy is little different from W's but he's a "war hero" and Americans will choose a tough guy to protect the empire from cave dwellers setting us back another decade.
Katie Couric interviewed Obama before Hillary conceded, she asked him three times how he "really" felt about her. Yeesh.


HNN - 6/9/2008

Thanks Jim!


HNN - 6/9/2008

Excellent point Maarja. I'll stop using Edwards as an example. There are plenty of others.


James Jude Simonelli - 6/9/2008

Your book is another brick in the "wall of truth and thought" that will defend us all from the ignorance battering us from all sides.


James Jude Simonelli - 6/9/2008

Please excuse the quoting of a fictitious character but it seems apropos in honestly replying to Mr. Shenkman's question. We do live in a world fabricated by the media and media moguls.

“Stupid is as stupid does” so says Forrest Gump.

Yes, Americans are far more interested in American Idol (only a short leap from Ted Mack's Amateur Hour) than they are in American Politics.

They ARE interested in American “politicians”, their sex lives, their drinking, drugs, their evil ways – not their fitness for service.

Yes, “Stupid is as stupid does” and television has reduced us all to that least common denominator – the lowest education, attention-span, interest level of all of us bespeaks who we really are and what we collectively think – or at least that is what the television tell us.

Debate. What debate? Monitored verbal food fights orchestrated around advertisers time slots? Debate, indeed!

Okay let’s place the challenge of “debate” at the doorstep of those who would have a meaningful chance at making a debate really important, HISTORIANS.

Go ahead all you eggheads at the pinnacle of academia – make my day!

Invite the candidates and the party leaders into the fray of intelligent and meaningful debate.

You have friends and contacts in the media to arrange such an offer to those who would have us elect them.

We the rabble, can only sit and watch as the circus of politicians’ divorce trials, corruption trials, embezzlement trials and more unravel on the new age boob-tube.

Go ahead Historians and Academicians, invite those you critique and number by the Dewey Decimal System into the arena of intelligent and vigorous and meaningful debate.


Maarja Krusten - 6/9/2008

A search reveals that the New York Times reported on March 23, 2007 that Elizabeth Edwards's breast cancer had spread to her bones. So you need to consider the fact that she discovered that terrible condition when she felt pain in her rib and had it checked out by a doctor. According to the initial report in the NYT last March

"She said she had no symptoms except for a sore spot where a rib had cracked. It was the painful rib, which broke either when she moved furniture or when Mr. Edwards later hugged her, that made her see a doctor and led to the discovery of the cancer recurrence. The rib may have broken because it was weakened by cancer, but that is not clear. The diagnosis was actually made from a biopsy taken from another rib."

The citation Rick refers to came later, in a September 23, 2007 NYT style writer's article about celebrity culture and "too much information." The author referred to a July interview in Esquire in which a reporter asked John Edwards, "How did your break her rib with a hug?"
Edwards first responded that "Maybe it was a little personal" but then said "It was a perfectly reasonable question."

The NYT style writer did not mention cancer in his September article. In my view, although this was a style writer, if he was going to write about the Esquire piece, he should have mentioned that Mr. and Mrs. Edwards learned of the cancer when she went to the doctor to check out a cracked rib. They then learned that her cancer had spread to her bones and was "incurable" but "treatable."


mark safranski - 6/9/2008

"I read in the New York Times of all places that Elizabeth Edwards had popped a rib when she and her husband were copulating and that the wife of Rudy Giuliani referred to her husband as a "high testosterone"

Methinks they doth protest too much.

Congrats on the book Rick !

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