I was going to let this go, but it keeps nagging at me. If I don’t drop my thoughts on this next story, I feel like I’m going to lose the last three marbles I have floating around in my head. Or maybe, I’ll lose them anyway. Whatever.

In old news, last week at the start of the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Former House Representative Tom Tancredo hinted his support of reinstituting civics literacy tests as a voting requirement:

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo took heat Friday for remarks at the national Tea Party convention that critics viewed as calling for a return to Jim Crow laws.

But Tancredo said he wasn’t targeting a specific group when he suggested in Nashville that there should be a civics-literacy test before someone could vote.

“People who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House,” Tancredo said in his opening-day speech Thursday. “His name is Barack Hussein Obama.”

Critics pointed out election tests, which were used to prevent blacks from voting during segregation, were banned by the Voting Rights Act in 1964.

Tancredo said Friday his call for a civics-literacy test dates to 2007, when he was a GOP presidential candidate, and was impressed with how much an immigrant knew about America.

Read the rest here.

As far as I can tell, there are three ways to examine his comments:

(1) To assume that he was well aware of the racial implications of instituting literacy tests as a requisite to voting. If he knew the racist history of these tests and is still a supporter of them, his racist colors are undeniably showing,

(2) To assume that he was NOT aware of the history of literacy laws. In which case, we can simply chalk this up to an ignorance of history, race, and politics, or

(3) [What I’m more inclined to believe] to assume he thinks voters should have basic knowledge of civics and electoral politics before casting a vote.

In making every effort possible to avoid race-baiting, I’m giving good ole Tom the benefit of the doubt by assuming he meant #3. But even then, I’m left to ask him: if this applies to illegal aliens and black people who put that “…socialist ideologue in the White House”, should it not also apply to everyone else? Are the people who supported McCain and Palin during last year’s election civics scholars who could pass the literacy test with flying colors? Those questions got lost somewhere as I was examining the coded language Tancredo was using. 

To a large extent, Tancredo’s thoughts have played out in the public square. The fact is: voters are stupid. I mean, people have indicated their support for Obama for no other reason than the fact that he’s a black man – without having a CLUE about his politics. But – and here’s the part that Tancredo conveniently left out – there were just as many people who oppose Obama for the very same reason. Or because they believe he’s not a natural-born citizen. Or because they believe he’s not a Christian. There are people who hate Sarah Palin solely because she is a conservative woman, without having a CLUE about her politics. There are people who love her for that exact same reason. People supported Bush just because they thought he was someone “they could have a beer with…” while other people were calling for his impeachment without having the slightest knowledge of what that actually meant. Political ignorance is all around us.

My point: the general electorate is frighteningly uninformed and the power of their vote is usually guided by politically irrelevant ignorance.

But even when I can co-sign on Tancredo’s assertions about having an informed general electorate (if, indeed, that was what he meant. The jury is still out on that one) using a civics literacy test as a measurement is farcical on its face. We’re not the ones running for office. If anything, it’s our elected officials who should be required to take (and pass) the test before serving. These days, you can’t even get a BS minimum wage job without passing some kind of test. Why should standards be any less for the people given the charge to shape our city’s, states, and country’s policies?

The average voter should not be let off the hook either. Just because most people (sans the political junkies and academics) don’t follow politics and civics, that does not mean we should not have some level of knowledge of the issues before we hit the ballot box. Much like a firearm or a moving vehicle, a vote can be a dangerous thing in the hands of a person who does not know how to use it. But as long as the current electoral system has certain allowances, the general electorate has no motivation to get informed.

My idea of a perfect electoral system would have the following conditions:

  • Candidates would not be allowed to reveal their political affiliations. Too many elections have been won or lost simply because a person had an R or a D by their name. Also, we should allow for more than two viable candidates to run.
  • Candidates would not be allowed to smear, attack, or even mention their opponents.
  • Voters would, quite literally, be prohibited from knowing anything about the candidate except for their positions (i.e. not knowing their name, race, gender, age, and any other attributes – physical or non – people use to judge one another)
  • In that same vein, voters would be prohibited from knowing anything about the candidates’ backgrounds (education, status, religion, or any number of things). I’ll admit, education was a big one for me – with Obama and Biden being Constitutional scholars vs. McCain, who graduated near the bottom of his class and Palin, who got a journalism degree and had to go to FOUR schools before that happened. But I think Obama/Biden’s intellectual ability and curiosity was the more pressing issue and represented the larger picture. I mean, graduating from college doesn’t ensure intelligence. I know PLENTY of people who either dropped out of college or who didn’t go at all, but could run circles around most of the trash produced in college.
  • Candidates would ONLY be allowed to run ON THE ISSUES.
  • Punditry would not be allowed from ANYONE.
  • Voters would be required to attend and complete a voter orientation; facilitated by a neutral party. This facilitator would unbiasly present the issues and any ramifications (positive or negative) stemming from those issues.

In my opinion, following the above conditions would ensure that the average voter was equipped with the knowledge necessary to make a sound and informed decision. Of course, that would require us to do homework (and you know how lazy we are), would put MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News out of business during election cycles, and would shake things up immensely in certain political circles. But that’s the most viable solution I can come up with to clean the dirty waters of politics.

Tom Tancredo may be an ignorant, racist tool. Maybe he’s not. But having an electorate who actually KNOWS issues and is not using some visceral and ignorant methods to elect their leaders has never been a bad idea.

Speaking of which, as a little exercise if you feel so inclined, here’s a link to a civics literacy test for 2010. I’m happy to announce that I scored 81.8% (27 out of 33) correct. Following Tancredo’s logic, this is one darkie who would’ve had no problem being allowed to vote. Hooray for me!

– ACL

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