Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Democracy's greatest enemy...

An old friend of mine used to employ a technique which he dubbed, “ribbing on the square.”  The technique usually was ostensibly told as a joke, but it had more than a grain of truth in it.  Following that line of thought, while I was in office I once commented “If you got all of the ignorance out of the Legislature, it would no longer be representative government.”  The reason I couched it in a humorous fashion was because, like all other politicians, I didn’t want to be accused of saying that the very voters who elected me were less than brilliant.

Several historic figures such as Winston Churchill and Plato did not hold the system of democracy in high esteem.  Winston Churchill is reported to have said the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.  Plato was more direct when he advocated only allowing the "intelligencia" to be elected to public office on the grounds the average citizen who voted would only vote to further his own selfish interests and never for the good of the whole.  In spite of its foibles, I still believe, as one philosopher once said, that democracy may not be a good form of government but is better than all the rest. 

A recent article by syndicated columnist, George Will, with whom I seldom agree, was an interesting piece titled “The Price of Political Ignorance.”  His article in some respects squares with my thinking that ignorance is the greatest enemy of a free society.  Will pointed out that a government scholar from Stanford University seemed to believe smaller government would fit with political ignorance of citizens.  He argued smaller government would provide less knowledge necessary to carry the burden of government.  I disagree and believe neither more government nor less government is the answer--but better government is.

As an elected official I was constantly amazed at the lack of knowledge of many of my constituents, including many who should have been in a position to be well informed.  A glaring example is the fact that more often than not I would receive letters from upstanding, wise businessmen from my district urging me to vote one way or another on a piece of legislation pending in the Congress of the United States.

It distresses me to no end to hear too many of my fellow citizens make little of their lack of knowledge about how we are governed with the simple phrase “it’s just politics.”   Some also excuse their ignorance of government by saying, “What difference does one vote make?”  This uninformed statement strikes home with me particularly because my father once lost an election for the Port Arthur city council by 2 votes.  

Attempting to navigate our political system and help foster decent government without adequate knowledge is like participating in an athletic tournament without knowing what the rules are.  I would urge each of you who have taken the time to read this article to give yourself a test on citizenship:

1. Name the 3 branches of the federal government. 
[If you don't know, here's the answer!]
2. Name your United States Senators. 
3. Name your local State Representative and State Senator. 
[If you live in Texas, click here]
4. Is your city government a city manager form of government or strong mayor form of government? [Here's some information to help you think about that]
5. Do you know the difference between a party primary and a general election? 
[If you don't know, click here]
6. Can you name the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court? 
7. Do you know what NATO is? 
8. Name the Lt. Governor of Texas. 
9. Name the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. 
10. Name the county Judge of the county where you live. 

A good citizen should score at least a 90 on this self test.  If you failed, people you don’t know are controlling a big part of your life.  

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