Opinion » Ted Rall

Triumph of the Stultocracy

Voters should pass a political literacy test


NEW YORK--"Kerry doesn't know what the working-class people do; he hasn't done any physical labor all his life," Sharon Alfman, a 51-year-old cook in New Lexington, Ohio, told a New York Times reporter. It's true. Kerry is a rich boy. But then she added: "Bush's values are middle-class family values."

George W. Bush earned $727,000 last year. Estimates of his net worth range between $9 and $26 million. Middle class he most assuredly is not. Working class he never has been. Like fellow Skull and Bones member John Kerry, man of the people he never will be. But it matters that Sharon Altman thinks he is. Unless you too are a voter living in a swing state like Ohio, her vote counts more than yours.

Demonstrating that stupefying ignorance can be bipartisan, another Ohioan interviewed for the same article said she is against the war in Iraq because, like 42 percent of her fellow Americans, she thinks Iraq was behind 9/11: "We shouldn't be over there building them back up because they didn't build our towers back up." She is wrong on so many levels that it makes my brain hurt.

Both women are entitled to their unawareness. We can't pass a law to force them to read the paper. But neither of these people ought to force their fellow citizens to suffer the consequences of their being so uninformed. Voting should be a privilege earned by an intellectually engaged citizen, not a right given to any adult with a pulse.

All men are created equal, declared the Founders. But as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in "Democracy in America," universal suffrage counts upon the existence of a responsible, well-educated citizenry in order to result in political equality. If you give the vote to morons, you get the "tyranny of the masses"--a lumpen proletariat prone to manipulation by demagogues and fools--such as that which created chaos and bloodshed in post-revolutionary France. We're all equal at birth, but what we do later determines whether or not our opinions are worthwhile.

At this writing, the world's greatest nation flails under the rule of buffoons and madmen, bogged down in two optional wars we're actually losing. The world's richest economy is shedding jobs, running up debts and building nothing for the future. Voters, offered an election year alternative to the subliterate idiot who single-handedly created this mess, spurn that alternative for a leader even dumber than they are. America has become a stultocracy: government by morons, for morons.

A 2002 poll found that 64 percent of Americans--people whose votes help determine how much you pay in taxes--could not name a single Supreme Court justice. In 2003, 58 percent--people whose votes could elect someone who starts a nuclear war--couldn't identify a single department of the president's cabinet. Voters aged 18 to 24, whose recent schooling ought to inspire confidence in their knowledge of basic facts, are especially ignorant. National Geographic says that 85 percent of young American adults can't find Afghanistan, Iraq or Israel on a map.

The fact that these yahoos are allowed to vote is an abomination. Their ill-considered ballots cancel or dilute those cast by those who do the heavy lifting that makes them good citizens: keeping abreast of current events, researching issues, studying candidates' positions.

In the Old South, literacy tests were used to disenfranchise black voters. Alternatively, a basic political literacy test should be used to ensure that anyone who picks ESPN over CNN--regardless of race or creed--stays home on Election Day. Prospective voters should be required to answer at least three of the following questions correctly; to give people a fair shot, the test should be published in newspapers a week before an election:

Who is the vice president?

What is your state capital?

Name one of the following: your governor, congressman or one senator.

What is the capital of the United States?

Name one federal cabinet-level department.

Of course, such a political literacy test would drastically reduce voter turnout. On the other hand, those who pass could take comfort in knowing that they're not competing against the 60 percent of Americans who think we've found Iraq's imaginary WMDs, or the 22 percent who believe that Saddam Hussein used such weapons against U.S. troops during the 2003 invasion.

Ted Rall is the author of two new books, Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back From the Right and Generalissimo El Busho: Essays and Cartoons on the Bush Years. Ordering information is available at amazon.com.

Copyright 2004 Ted Rall

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate/Ted Rall

Ted Rall online: www.rall.com