Be Rationally Ignorant

By Beacon Staff

Now is the time when editors and pundits write on the uplifting theme: “Citizens, Do Your Civic Duty This Election Day and Vote.”

Well, my theme is: Citizens might best fulfill their civic role by staying the heck home.

My friend Robert Struckman over at NewWest.Net wrote an item titled, “Should You Vote?” that featured links to various depressing TV segments about voter ignorance. ABC 20/20’s version, http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=5990076, was the worst. Go ahead, watch …

Good Lord, they can’t ID Ruth Bader Ginsburg but can spot Judge Judy? Is voter stupidity really that endemic? Could that be why this nation is so poorly led?

Mr. Struckman argued that clueless voters nonetheless understand “economic realities, maybe about the job market, student loans, the price of gasoline and airline tickets.” That’s all fine, but only if voters understand how “government” affects, or does not affect, those issues. Too many don’t.

I understand why people don’t bother with politics. Economists have a term for it: “Rational Ignorance.” In sum, why waste endless hours being sprayed with toxic lies and blather – just to cast one vote out of zillions?

Leaving the circus to the clowns was the rational thing to do when the circus was just a sideshow. But today, government is a 50-ring circus, so big and complex, so invasive in so many ways, and so expensive that we all work one-third of the year to pay for stuff we’ve never heard of and can’t understand. That’s where we are now. Rational ignorance – emphasis on the ignorance – got us here.

You might be saying, aw, that’s not Montana. Montana supposedly ranks No. 7 for statewide collective IQ, so we’re “smarter” than much of the nation. You picked Justice Ginsburg out of the lineup, right?

So, explain to me why Montana voted for the peripatetic gadfly Bob “Northern Pacific” Kelleher as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate – after he ran and lost something like 14 times as either a Democrat or a Green?

Now, I understand that boneheaded REPUBLICANS did that. But DEMOCRATS did their part to “balance the ticket” with their genius selection of John Driscoll to “uncampaign” for the U.S. House race.

With Congress’ popularity ratings in the sewer, might it be in Montana’s best interest to have real races for these seats? You bet, but what we have is nothing but snarky joke fodder for elitist TV talk shows.

Perhaps voting rights should be contingent upon passing a basic intelligence or current-affairs test every election. Flunktards wouldn’t get to vote, but could try again next election. Of course, that won’t happen.

So what can I suggest? Rational Ignorance – this time emphasizing Rational! It’s easy!

When voting for candidates, if you already know who they are and what they stand for, go ahead and vote your choice. However, don’t be tempted to mark a name that “rings a bell” – especially in the “non-partisan” slots. If you draw a blank … leave a blank!

On ballot questions, if you didn’t read your Voter Information Pamphlet, and/or don’t understand the ballot questions, no sweat. Ballot questions are usually about plowing more of your money into somebody else’s pet cause. Your safest move is usually to vote no … but then, ballot questions are sometimes written so that “No” really means “Yes.” If you’re not sure … don’t mark it.

Let’s say you want to “send a message” – for example voting for Bob Kelleher just to let Max Baucus know you don’t support the Wall Street bailout – or voting for Max because you don’t like Bob’s eyebrows. Well, the race itself is a travesty, so don’t legitimize it with your mark. Let the wonks figure out the “message” when a bunch of ballots come back blank.

Finally, you probably have friends, as I do, who won’t read this brilliant column, don’t read newspapers, watch the news, or make any other effort to be informed before Election Day. If they want to stay home Election Day, for all our sakes, let them stay home.