When my history professor told us our first assigned book was titled “Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter,” I was slightly insulted. I mean, come on, I’m college-educated (well, at least partly) and I consider myself fairly well-informed. I read the newspaper every day (and no, not just the comics thank you very much).
How stupid could I really be? As it turns out, more than I thought.
Rick Shenkman, the author of “Just How Stupid Are We?,” makes an interesting point right from the start. It is altogether too easy to blame all of the bad events happening right now on the Bush administration. I know a lot of people would like to do just that, but we elected him didn’t we? And for a second term too. Isn’t the American public at least partly to blame for what has happened to our economy?
Our decisions as voters determine who gets elected, and thus which direction our country takes. This is a heady realization. We take our right to vote too lightly sometimes, thinking that since we don’t have enough time to research the issues and where the candidates stand on them, we’ll just vote like our parents did or because they look nice. A friend told me that one of her friends actually voted for someone because they thought the person’s name sounded “cool.” Honestly, if we’re going to vote for those reasons, maybe we’re better off not voting at all.
I know young people have heard it over and over again. Everyone from their parents to their favorite rap star is telling them to vote. But what good does this do if they are voting for people with “cool” names or because they saw a sign on the side of the road and decided that was easier than actually looking up the various candidates? I’ll admit, I used to be one of those people that didn’t really care about elections. I was too busy watching my favorite episode of “The Hills,” and any news I got came from “The Daily Show.”
After the last eight years, I’ve come to realize that enough is enough. It’s not just getting people to vote, because if they have no idea what’s going on, then there’s no point in sending them to the polls. As a society, we need to make it easier for regular people (a.k.a. not political junkies who obsess over their chosen candidate and follow their every move) to understand where the candidates stand on important issues.
Just recently I received a card in the mail outlining the candidates for my local Community Services District board and exactly what they believed. They wrote out all the issues and then the candidates checked a box if they opposed or supported an issue. Why can’t it be that easy for a presidential election? The presidential debates are held so people can see where each candidate stands on each issue and yet candidates talk themselves in circles because they’re too afraid to say anything that might offend a small percentage of Americans. There is so much mumbo-jumbo that no one can figure out what, exactly, was said much less who might have won the debate and for what reasons.
I have been trying to follow the election this year more closely than I have any other year. I’ll admit it is hard to see both sides when ads are attacking the candidates and you’re not really sure if even the people reporting the news are actually objective. It’s not exactly inspiring to anyone, much less young voters who already believe they have better things to do.
What you have to realize, though, is that there is no excuse for not voting or voting blindly. Our generation is being sent to war. We are the ones who will inherit the failing economy. And yet are still outvoted by the older generations four to one. How have we come to let others decide our fate for us?
I don’t want to berate young people about voting because I understand why many of us don’t vote. What I want is to make people think about the impact not voting has on our future and the future of this country. I’m not preaching from the standpoint of someone who knows all the answers or is, in any way, perfect in following candidates and researching their policies.
After reading “Just How Stupid Are We” I took a civics quiz that my history professor sent out. There were 60 questions and I, who consider myself well-educated and fairly interested in government, missed 20 of them. I’m working to improve my current affairs knowledge, and I encourage the rest of my generation to do the same. We can help to bring this country back to a time when the majority of people voted and knew who and what they were voting for.
Alisha Axsom is a journalism senior and Mustang Daily reporter.