Sunday, April 24, 2011

Closing the ignorance gap is good for progressives and Democrats

Millions of Americans believe that Medicare is not a government program. Millions. Medicare is probably the most effective socialist program in the country (the government taxes people and directly pays for the service without any for-profit middleman insurance company -- seems like socialism to me!), and instead of warming people up to the idea of government making their lives better, millions of people think that the government ought to stay out of Medicare.

This is ignorance.

And this civic or government ignorance that millions of American suffer from is a heavy anchor holding back progressive governance.

The more people hold reflexive anti-government suspicions, even as they like some of the biggest government programs like Medicare, the harder it is to build consensus for reasonable, pragmatic investments in our economy like Medicare for everyone or expanded public transportation. This is because the ignorant won't agree.

We must educate the ignorant. If after they come to understand that Medicare is, in fact, a government program, and they are still against the government out of some precious feeling that the government is bad, then fine. But some of the people who are anti-government but pro-Medicare will change their mind and drop their animus against the government when they are shown what the government actually is.

Who will close the ignorance gap? It isn't fair to ask a political candidate or a political party to do so. Their job is to earn majority support from the people where they are -- not necessarily to change the electorate's views on issues. They are working to change the electorate's views on the candidates and the parties, but not on issues. If a candidate finds that a good chunk of the people are simply misinformed about an issue, it isn't the candidate's job to teach them. So who will?

Who will pay for a mailing to every Republican-leaning senior in America that says Medicare is the Government!

I think we tend to overlook the very large benefits of relatively small civic education targeted to the ignorant whose ignorant views result in voting for the anti-government party. (Not all Republican voters are ignorant, of course, but for those that are in the 'keep government out of Medicare vein', some civic education could change their minds and their votes.) As a related example, I'm convinced that millions of Americans have no idea how marginal federal income tax rates work (if we raise taxes on income above $250,000, no one who makes less than that in a year will pay higher taxes). If all American did understand it, then no one would fall prey to the ignorant response to raising the highest marginal income tax rate with 'you're going to end up paying higher taxes....somehow'. And people do!

I'm increasingly intrigued with the idea of waging a campaign to narrow the ignorance gap among swing voters. People need to be educated in order to make up their own mind about the state of our nation. We can't expect a modern, intelligent, pragmatic government if we don't invest in educating the people who ultimately run it, and that's the electorate.


Reed said...

Dan, this is THE issue of our time. And I have no idea how to attack it. I know that Fox News sure as hell isn't going to participate.

Bob said...

"Their job is to earn majority support from the people where they are -- not necessarily to change the electorate's views on issues. "

This is a good description of a politician but not a LEADER.

A good LEADER would be trying to teach the electorate, not just be a follower.

Bob Kastigar
IBEW Local 1220 Chicago

Typical attitude of a liberal socialist to get elected officials to just follow, not lead.