Comedian Jay Leno has a feature on his show where he interviews people on the street about current events. The answers, often as amazing as they are hilarious, confirm in bold type the late H. L. Mencken’s observation that “no one…has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”
Thus prepared, it still is head-shake depressing to confront loud public ignorance in today’s politics. Depression turns to anger when the misinformed expect others to join and accept their mistaken views.
The classic example of such ill-founded politics was the early Tea Party protest sign that exclaimed, “Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare!” Hello?
A recent New York Times, page one article illustrated the disconnect between many citizens and facts about their government.
There is a strong tide of anti-government sentiment abroad in the land. Republican presidential candidates, for example, are expected to denounce the federal government at every turn. And even Democrats are unwilling to champion the national health care act of 2009.
This anti-government mood, however, runs up against the fact that many Americans like government benefits and do not want to give them up. The Times’ story reported on a number of hard-working Minnesotans who thought they were self-sufficient and opposed government programs.
These same people, as the story revealed, accepted federal aid when available. One man’s children are signed up for the federal free breakfast and lunch program and enrolled in the federal earned income credit program. He stated, “I don’t demand that the government does this for me. I don’t feel like I need the government.” But he took the money.
Another voter, who supported an anti-government candidate in 2010, accepted government money to help educate his disabled daughter. He didn’t want to pay higher taxes and believed the country couldn’t afford to care for his daughter. But he took the money.
His congressman, Tea Party Republican Chip Cravaack, whose wife is a drug company executive, told supporters, “We have to break away from relying on government to provide all the answers.” Yet, he drew unemployment benefits in the early 1990s. He took the money.
The Times’ reporters wrote of these Americans, “They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it, and resent the government for providing it.”
It is easy to call them hypocrites, but it is more that they are unaware, misinformed. And Thomas Jefferson warned us, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”