Alexis de Tocqueville observed that, in a democracy, we get the government we deserve. By and large, the historic record does not bode well. Sadly, the highest rate of voter turnout in a presidential election in the last half century was in 1960 when 63.1 percent of those registered to vote, cast ballots. By the time of the 1996 Presidential election only 49.1 percent, less than half the eligible voters, voted. Even in the throes of a growing recession and a bitterly fought Presidential Election, a mere 56.8% of eligible voters participated in the 2008 presidential election while, as a consequence of the 2010 elections in which an obstructionist, ideologically reactionary Tea Party majority assumed control of the Republican -dominated House of Representatives, a mere 37.8 % of eligible voters turned out.
These disturbing trends are replicated the area of citizenship education. In a 2005 report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 14,000 freshman and seniors at fifty colleges and universities were administered 60 multiple-choice questions which were intended to measure their knowledge of American history and government, world affairs, and the market economy. The first of its major findings was that "America's colleges and universities fail to increase knowledge about America's history and institutions. There was a trivial difference between college seniors and their freshman counterparts regarding knowledge of America's heritage. Seniors scored just 1.5 percent higher on average than freshman, and, at many schools, seniors know less than freshman about America's history, government, foreign affairs, and economy. Overall, college seniors failed the civic literacy exam, with an average score of 53.2 percent, or F, on a traditional grading scale."
As a consequence of voter indifference and literacy deficits, gerrymandering, voting restrictions and distorted, misleading political advertisements, fueled by millions of dollars contributed by monied interests, have turned the electoral process into a lottery in which the intelligent, the principled, the bold leaders and the visionaries have little chance to be elected. By contrast, the peddlers of nonsense and the demagogues - witness the current GOP presidential contenders - are rewarded by their wealthy benefactors for supporting proposals to further reduce tax rates on the wealthy and corporations; gut regulation of the economy in the public interest; eliminate environmental protection laws; and, in a sop to the many religious lunatics who inhabit the current Republican Party, enable governments at all levels to invade the uteruses of every woman and female child in America.
Given all of the problems that currently bedevil the American political system and its economy, it is inexcusable that two largely rural, monochromatic white states, populated by large numbers of gun fetishists, climate-change deniers, evangelicals and recluses should be permitted to play the leading role in choosing Presidential candidates in either of the two alleged political parties. These two states and their voters have little experience or understanding of the complexities of life in an increasingly cosmopolitan, urbanized society populated by large numbers of people who do not share their ethnicities, races or religions or worldviews. Further, the rural orientations and nostalgic pining for a mythological American past make it difficult for many of the voters in these two states to understand the complexities or government and economics in the twenty- first century.
Because of the forums provided by the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, the GOP presidential candidates have been permitted, without any serious criticism or scrutiny by the media, to argue that, instead of the current, grid-locked, paralyzed status quo - which already heavily favors the powerful and the wealthy - this country should revert to the kind of laissez-faire Social Darwinism that dominated American political thought duringthe post Civil War era. When that ideology controlled, labor unions were prosecuted as combinations in restraint of trade, child labor laws were outlawed, industrial accidents were not compensated for, and the poor, the inform and the elderly were left without any safety net except that which their families, churches and charities could provide.
John Adams warned that "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide." Empowering a small, unrepresentative sample of poorly informed voters, who are easily manipulated and persuaded by the propaganda of wealthy special interests, to set this country's political agenda is a prescription for collective suicide.