A Nation of Simpletons

When I first arrived in the United States, I remember watching the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite do a report over the enactment of a law prohibiting open containers for drivers in Texas. At that time, it was legal to drink alcohol while driving in 11 states and according to the report one could drive from New Mexico to Florida beer in one hand, steering wheel in the other. This report has stuck in my mind these now 30 plus years for the reaction of a woman when asked about the law which was then about to take effect. Beer in hand, cigarette in mouth, this tank topped graced woman offered the view that the enactment of this law marked the fact that America was becoming "a communist country." My reaction then was geez what a simpleton.

That was pretty much my reaction when I saw this little ditty composed and performed by former Saturday Night Live cast member Victoria Jackson:

Unfortunately, the above isn't satire. She's serious. By her own self-admission, even her parents think she's crazy. But millions in the Tea Party movement beg to differ.

And my reaction to reading that a poll by James Carville run Democracy Corps (pdf) finds that 55 percent of likely voters believe that the word "socialist" describes the president either "well" or "very well" was did they just poll morons or we can now safely assume that most Americans just that ignorant. I have to ask how many of these people can actually define what socialism is or means. 

Over at Salon, Steve Kornacki finds that these results are "actually not all that surprising" and that we shouldn't be "alarmed" by them.

The first thing to keep in mind is that we're talking about likely midterm voters, which means that the sample is skewed to include more Republican-friendly voters, who are more likely to turn out in November. This is what always happens in midterm elections: The out party's base is more motivated.

Of course, this only accounts for a few extra points. As the poll shows, even when the pool is broadened, the number of voters who describe their president as a socialist is quite high. But maybe this has always been the case? The right has been screaming about Obama's "socialism" since the summer of 2008 (at least) -- long before he was elected, long before he was sworn in, and long before he signed a single piece of legislation. In other words, the right reached its conclusion before there was any evidence. (This is the "thinking with my gut" mentality that Stephen Colbert likes to mock.)

I can't immediately recall or find any polling from the '08 campaign about the Obama/socialism question. But it seems entirely possible that, even during that campaign, around 40 percent of the electorate would have described him as a socialist. This isn't to say that they knew what the term meant (or even how to spell it); they just latched onto it because it meshed with the emotions that Obama and his supporters stirred in them. And now the number has jumped, with some voters from outside the hardened GOP base joining in the name-calling.

Or perhaps we just live amongst simpletons who have been failed by the educational system and who are exploited for political ends by a self-serving elite that preaches freedom couched in economic terms based on an erroneous mantra that lower taxes translate into greater wealth ever while condemning an ever larger percentage of Americans into perpetual poverty even as they enrich themselves. Frankly, I am alarmed by the stupidity which surrounds me.


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