An Ignorant Army of Uninformed Voters

By Charley Reese

Commentary Published in The Orlando Sentinel, November 3, 1998


Unless they can pass the same test that immigrants must pass to become citizens, people shouldn't be allowed to vote. The idea that there is some public benefit in ignoramuses and morons pulling levers next to names on a ballot is one of the evil myths of post-modern America.

The purpose of voting, in our country, is to select men and women with the competence and integrity to operate the mechanics of government fixed by our Constitution. For this process to have any public benefit requires that the choices be made on an intelligent, knowledgeable and reasoned basis. I'm not sure most Americans have faced up to just how corrupt our electoral process has become. I don't mean the obvious buying of votes, having dead people vote or rigging voting machines.

It has become standard operating procedure for candidates to lie not only about themselves but about their opponents. If they have the money, candidates even hire people who are professional experts in lies and deceptions. Candidates base campaign positions not on beliefs or convictions but on polling data. This blatant deception has become so accepted as part of the process that television networks think nothing of hiring professional campaign deceivers as campaign commentators. At the same time, politicians, knowing that an ignorant voter is the best defense against accountability, have encouraged universal registration without regard for patriotism, interest or knowledge on the part of voters.

These apathetic and ignorant voters, moved only by their self-interest, so outnumber the interested and informed voters that the demagogues always win. As a matter of fact, campaigns are directed at these apathetic and ignorant voters.

Thus, the American people are effectively deprived of their right to self-government. Big-money contributors buy the ears of the politicians, and the ignorant army of uninformed voters overwhelms those Americans, either liberal or conservative, who have gone to the trouble of educating themselves about the candidates and the issues.

These ignorant voters are the "barbarians" that Thomas Macaulay, the British historian, predicted would plunder the United States in the 20th century. "American democracy must be a failure," Macaulay said, "because it places the supreme authority in the hands of the poorest and most ignorant part of the society."

Macaulay would have earned an A as a prophet if he could have foreseen that his own country would fall the same way, drowned in the same flood of egalitarianism unleashed by the French Revolution.

Today, most politicians sound like social workers. If they are incumbents and feel called upon to defend their records, they talk about what they've done for the people. In the case of federal legislators, what they've done is almost always a list of things that the Constitution forbids them to legislate on. Of course, they neglect to say that all they do-if anything, because they are great exaggerators-is done at the expense of the people. But people who demand cash benefits and services from government are content with social-worker politicians. They have the mentality of beggars instead of the once-customary attitude of self-reliance. They are easy to buy off with pittances and promises.

I'm not suggesting that some people be barred permanently from voting. I'm merely suggesting that all of us demonstrate some knowledge and some interest in public affairs before we get our voter-registration card. We should think of voting as a privilege of citizenship that is earned. I expect, however, that I will climb Mount Everest before there is any serious political reform in this country.