Republicans are generally convinced that Democrats are a bunch of self-destructive naive Commies. Democrats, conversely, assume a healthy majority of Republicans boast the IQs of spotted toads.
Well, the good folks at the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press recently measured the political acumen of more than 3,000 adults and found that we're equally uninformed and both ridiculously ill-equipped to vote.
Participants in this ruthlessly useless poll were asked three relatively simple questions: 1. Name the controlling party of the U.S. House of Representatives. 2. Name the U.S. secretary of state. 3. Name Great Britain's prime minister.
If you answered "the defendants," "that neocon chick" and "J. Gordon Brown," you're a member of an elite 18 percent of Americans who hit it on the nose. Geeks. The rest of us can only assume you're not watching nearly enough network television. Really, who cares about the prime minister of Britain?
And because most of us are hopelessly dense -- at least, that's the rationalization we hear every time a Republican is elected -- it is interesting to note that viewers of Fox News' partisan slugfest, "Hannity & Colmes," scored only 2 percent below those smarty-pants who listen to NPR.
In fact, habitual listeners of Rush Limbaugh, in larger numbers than erudite readers of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, could explain who is in charge of Congress.
But let's agree that wide-ranging declarations are counterproductive and never, ever should be used. My question is: Are we really dumber and less informed than our recent ancestors?
With our unlimited access to instantaneous information via the Internets, shouldn't we be able to rattle off the Indonesian finance minister's name (Sri Mulyani Indrawati!) at the drop of a hat? Or is it simply that we compartmentalize information and focus on what interests us most -- and by compartmentalize, I mean dispense with politics and maps.
In 1989, after all, according to an earlier Pew poll, 74 percent of Americans could name the vice president (Dan Quayle?). Today far fewer are able to name Darth Cheney.
Another recent poll (of which, for the sake of the republic, I am highly skeptical) claims that one out of five Americans -- many doubtlessly holding deep-seated reservations about the situation on the Afghan border -- can't locate the United States on a map.
This poll inadvertently birthed one of the most comical moments of meta-stupidity in this young century: Miss Teen South Carolina trying to explain why Americans aren't smarter. "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don't have maps and uh " and so on and so on.
The video became a worldwide viral sensation and a useful tool in explaining the supreme idiocy of U.S. America's youth. Or not.
Some of us may cling to the comforting belief that this nation once teemed with scholarly beauty queens, but it probably never has been so.
Moreover, the notion that Americans are apathetic because they fail to share verve for public and international policy is also a myth. We all know an engineer or doctor who can't name his congressman, much less the prime minister of Canada (um ?).
And though it's difficult for some choice citizens to believe, not everyone is captivated by government, nor does everyone stake his existence on its success. This attitude doesn't make people apathetic; it makes them normal.
Now, I've been lectured numerous times on the awe-inspiring intelligence of the generation preceding mine. (I intend to deliver the same speech to my own offspring.) You have to wonder, though; should the children of "The Gong Show" generation be lecturing the children of the "American Idol" one?