Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Homer of the Free

Every once in a while you come across a report/study/story that perfectly pinpoints what's wrong with our society, culture, polity, etc. The latest candidate for the latest sign of the apocalypse was a poll that the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum released yesterday, showing that Americans are far more familiar with the Simpsons than the First Amendment.

According to the museum's press release:

"[O]nly about one in four Americans (28 percent) are able to name more than one of the five fundamental freedoms granted to them by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Yet when it comes to knowledge of popular culture, Americans are considerably more tuned in. For example, almost twice as many Americans (52 percent) can name at least two members of “The Simpsons” cartoon family.

"And while more than one in five (22 percent) Americans can name all five of the fictional Simpsons family members – Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie – just one in 1,000 people surveyed (.1 percent) were able to name all five freedoms granted under the First Amendment."

And my Democratic friends wonder how we wound up with an incompetent ignoramus in the White House -- and reelected him to boot.

Well, this is not rocket science. In a democratic republic, the people get the government they deserve. And when you have an electorate that is largely checked out and bordering on politically illiterate, and that does not know enough about their liberties to care (let alone notice) when they are undermined and overwhelmed, you get a government about as farcical as your average Simpsons episode.

Now to be fair to voters, they have good reason to be apathetic. Our democratic system has become warped beyond all recognition -- at least as compared to the Jeffersonian vision of self-government -- by politicians who have largely and ritualistically abandoned their responsibility to put the public interest above personal and partisan expedience.

Nor have our public leaders or institutions demanded much in the way of civic engagement or individual responsibility from we the people. Most federal and state elected officials treat voters as if they were simps, talking to them in monosyllablles and rarely ever challenging them to think for themselves, let alone to think of others.

Moreover, just look closely at our public education system -- which long ago lost any real interest in its original mission of inculcating children with the habits of citizenship, and which today is mostly a mix of middling mediocrity (suburbs/exurbs) and chronic failure (inner cities) -- and it's not hard to fathom that more kids know what kind of beer Homer drinks than what it actually means to be the home of the free.

The result is what might be called the mother of all vicious circles -- political irresponsibility begets public disconnection begets educational failure, which then leads to a vacuum of accountability, a license for further political gamesmanship, and more irresponsibility, more disconnection, and more ignorance. Rinse, lather, deplete.

I could go on and on for days about the dangers of this knowledge gap and our priorities being so far out of whack. But no surfeit of words I could come up with could come close to capturing the stakes involved here as this concise warning from Jefferson (who, notwithstanding Bart's admonition, would certainly be having a cow right now if he saw how we have taken for granted the great gift of liberty he and his fellow founders entrusted to us): "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?