There’s one thing I miss now that I’m at RPI: being able to talk politics. Not the talk of trying to convert people to whatever ideology I tend to be holding onto in a given month, but just talking about it. Talking about the Big O’s plummeting approval rating, talking about Mitt Romney finally pulling ahead of Governor Rick Perry in the polls, or talking about how a wealthy individual in North Carolina has been pouring millions into campaign funds in an attempt to realign the state congress. But the majority of the conversations I have on campus generally boil down to “LOL, Michelle Bachmann is crazy, Tea Party is crazy, [insert Colbert Report or Daily Show quote here].”
Maybe it’s just the people I talk to, but there just does not seem to be any interest in what’s going on with national politics, and that disappoints me. Friends and staff have tried making the argument that at least The Daily Show is better than nothing, but that argument never worked for me. It’s like saying a 20 on a test is better than a 0. Numerically, sure, a 20 is better, but they are both still F’s, so that marginal increase in knowledge means nothing. If the people are making political decisions based solely on what they hear from Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart, then they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. It may sound harsh, but in all honesty, if that is the extent of your knowledge in politics you may as well just pick names at random on the ballot. It is your right to vote, but it is also your duty to know what exactly you are voting for. If you don’t want to fulfill that duty, you shouldn’t vote, shouldn’t be allowed to vote, and also shouldn’t complain to me when things aren’t working the way you expected them to.
My point is, an unknowledgeable decision can cause issues, and 100 million unknowledgeable decisions escalate a financial crisis. This is the first time I am going able to vote in a presidential election, in a state (Massachusetts) where my Republican vote—barring Perry taking the nomination—is as effective as lighting my ballot on fire (OK, this election cycle, Massachusetts could turn into a legitimate battleground, as Romney is still remembered favorably, but that’s not the point I’m making), and I’m still following the primary race, and I’m still excited to finally be able to vote in a presidential election.
You don’t even need to wait for election results see the effects of lack of knowledge on the general public either. For a large portion of September, Perry, who seemingly came out of nowhere, was the Republican forerunner. Conservatives liked his fighting oratory style, his strict adherence to conservative ethics, and his ability to seemingly turn Texas’ economy around while the rest of the country wallowed in growing unemployment. However, it wasn’t until after the honeymoon period did the critical eye get turned on Perry, and that is when his ratings started to plummet. His attempts to force the HPV vaccine on every girl above the age of 12 in Texas—a move that alienated Republicans concerned about big government—the revelation that the percentage of Texans living under the poverty line (18.4 percent) was 3.1 percent higher than the national average, and his desire to aid the illegal immigrants already in the country have driven away a large number of Republicans. In this case, Perry’s popularity was affected by the public’s lack of knowledge on him, and now voters have the luxury to step back and reevaluate whether these developments are enough to change who they vote for.
In the end, it’s about knowing who your candidate is, and finding out whether the good you see in them outweighs the bad. This does not mean to turn a blind eye to the bad though. Get sources from both sides; I personally check The Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Sheppard Smith on Fox News (despite the common belief that they are refined evil, Smith is an extremely respectable journalist) daily, and when I want a good laugh I’ll watch The Colbert Report or Glenn Beck. If nothing else, you’ll be able to impress your non-tech friends with your knowledge of current events, and the jokes in The Colbert Report/The Daily Show will be funnier when you understand the context of them better.