Though examples are depressingly unnecessary, here are two of my favorites over the years. In 1987, 45 percent of adult respondents to one survey answered that the phrase "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" was in the Constitution (in fact, it's a quote from Karl Marx). Then, in 1991, an American Bar Association study reported that a third of Americans did not know what the Bill of Rights was.
That the public mood is a poor compass for guiding the ship of state is an old lament. Here are two reasons why.
The first has to do with the laziness, spinelessness and vanity of political elites. Citing polls as proof you're on the right side of an argument is often a symptom of intellectual cowardice. If the crowd says two plus two equals seven, that's no reason to invoke the authority of the crowd. But pundits and pols know that if they align themselves with the latest Gallup findings, they don't have to defend their position on the merits because "the people" are always right. Such is the seductiveness of populism. It means never being wrong. "The people of Nebraska are for free silver, and I am for free silver," proclaimed William Jennings Bryan. "I will look up the arguments later."
Which brings us to ideology. The days when politicians would actually defend small-r republicanism are gone. The answer to every problem in our democracy seems to be more democracy, as if any alternative spells more tyranny. Indeed, once more the "forces of progress" are trying to destroy the Electoral College in the name of democracy. Their beachhead is Maryland, which was the first to approve an interstate compact promising its electors to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote.
If these progressives have their way, we'll soon see candidates ignoring small states and rural areas entirely because democracy means going where the votes are. The old notion that this is a republic in which minority communities have a say will suffer perhaps the final, fatal blow.
But that's OK, because 70 percent of Americans say they're for getting rid of the Electoral College. And Lord knows, they must be right.
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