Jonah Goldberg

The ignorance of the typical American when it comes to politics is often staggering. For example, just one week before the GOP convention in 2000, the Vanishing Voter Project conducted a survey revealing that three out of four Americans didn't know when the convention would be held. One in four Americans don't know who their governor is and one in two don't know who their congressman is.

This ignorance is the real reason special interest groups and demagogues have the success they do (though it's a wonder they don't have more). For example, we are constantly told by extreme leftwing groups and more than a few rightwing groups that there's no difference between the political parties.

As anyone who pays attention to politics knows, this is monumental nonsense on stilts; informed people understand that a Dean administration will be very different from a Bush administration.

But if you get much of your news from late-night comics - as is the case with nearly half of young voters, according to the Pew Research Center - it makes complete sense that you'd think there's no difference between the parties, in much the same way people who don't understand physics think protons and electrons are pretty much the same thing.

But Americans don't like being told they're the problem. So when they eventually tune into politics they tend to blame the candidates, as if it's the actors' fault you don't understand the play when you arrive for the last five minutes.

For example, during the last campaign, the news networks convened "undecided voters" to watch Gore-Bush debates. Invariably, these average Americans complained that the candidates didn't provide "enough information" to help them decide between the two candidates. That's right, it was the candidates' fault. They only put out position papers, speeches, commercials and Web sites for a year, while those poor undecideds watched Jay Leno.

Now, as a conservative I don't mind that Americans aren't consumed with political fervor. In fact, I tend to like low voter turnout on the principle that the people not voting are probably the people I don't think should vote.

My problem is with a political culture that tells everyone they're bad citizens if they don't vote but doesn't care if they don't know why they're voting. In other words, I don't really mind if you'd prefer to watch Paris Hilton over George W. Bush - or Howard Dean. That might even be healthy. But spare me your opinion on either of them and, if possible, spare me your vote, too.

Bah, humbug.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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