Sunday, December 16, 2012

BC2012: Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth about the American Voter by Rick Shenkman

I'm not sure why I bought this book. I suppose I agreed with its premise, or maybe I recognized the author from another book of his that I enjoyed, Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American History. I don't know why I chose to read it now either. I usually have a handful of books in a sort of "on deck circle" that I select from, plus another dozen or two that bubble up to the tops of my unread stacks (I sort through and prioritize my unread books regularly, even though it's a complete waste of time). This book was buried in the middle of a pile, and I just pulled it out on a whim and started reading.

This isn't a bad book, but it didn't really excite me. Like I said, I already agreed with its premise, and that tends to make for so-so reading. There are some good anecdotes, such as the one about Lesley Stahl reporting on how Reagan posed with people who were being hurt by his policies, giving the false impression that he was on their side. Someone from the Reagan White House called, but instead of complaining, they said they appreciated all the great images Stahl showed during her story, the bottom line being that people would remember only those positive images, not the negative words Stahl had said while showing them.

One thing I disagree with is Shenkman's assertion that local television news doesn't cover politics. That may be true for his experience in Seattle, but I can't imagine any Chicagoan would agree with that. Maybe we're just lucky, though I would guess that our politics are also more interesting.* I do agree that local TV news doesn't really give a clear picture of what has happened in the local community that day, but in Chicago's case the problem is skewed news values rather than the omission of political coverage. I still blame TV news for the negative impression I had of Chicago while growing up in the suburbs (i.e., a place where poor people live and everybody gets killed).

If you need convincing that American voters are flawed in many ways, this book will probably do the trick. But if you're a cynical bastard like me who is already fairly certain of being surrounded by idiots, you can probably pass on this one.

* Come on, just last month we reelected a state representative who had been indicted on federal bribery charges. You couldn't make up more interesting political news than that.


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