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The New York Post buried the item, but it should have been page
one. A survey taken of 400 Americans ages 16 to 21 uncovered the
startling statistic that 75 percent of them do not know who the
vice presidential candidates are. Also, 33 percent of them don’t know
who is running for the top job. They haven’t heard that Al Gore and
George W. Bush are locked in the tightest presidential race since the
Kennedy-Nixon slug out in 1960.
Now, many people find this survey hard to believe but I do not. From
my perch at “The O’Reilly Factor” TV program, I am able to monitor all
kinds of activity across the country. It is clear to me that there is a
growing subculture of computer zombies in America and that these people
inhabit a world of their own design. They create their own reality and
can exorcise from their lives anything they find unpleasant or boring.
Take Jake for example. He is a composite character who has recently
graduated from high school and is currently working some construction in
Tampa, Fla. Jake gets up in the morning and listens to rock music on a
station that does not do news. He goes to work around eight and wears
a Walkman radio headset nearly all day long. On the drive home Jake
pops in a Metallica CD. He eats dinner with his mother but the
conversation is sparse. Jake then watches a sporting event or
wrestling on TV, and after that hits the computer until midnight. On
the Net he chats with women, checks out some bodybuilding websites, and
then pops in some video games. That is Jake’s world. It does not include
newspapers, newscasts, or friends who speak about current events. It
also does not include any thought of his country or of his duty as a
citizen. Jake is interested in immediate gratification and pleasure and
has created a simple life that delivers it.
The scandalous thing about Jake’s setup is that it is happening with
millions of young Americans. With the collapse of the public school
system, many teen-agers and young adults have no idea how their country
works. Ask them about the three branches of government and you’ll get
a surly look more often than not. Inquire about checks and balances,
the Supreme Court, or any public policy question at all and silence and
a shake of the head will be your answer.
Remember 75 percent of those between 16 and 21 cannot name the
vice presidential candidates this year. Frightening? You bet it is.
And things are not going to improve any time soon. If an American
has no idea how his country runs, how can that person take an interest
in the government? If the public schools ignore civics and government
classes, which they do because they are not on the test score
radarscope, how will young people come to understand their civic duty?
The answer is they will not.
So the result is that a relatively few people are now deciding who
will have power in America. Experts predict that once again less than
half of registered voters will cast a ballot this year. And if that’s
the turnout during a cliffhanger election — you can imagine what the
off year congressional races wrack up. Voter turnouts of about 20
percent are now the norm.
This, of course, is good news for the charlatans and con men and
women who want power in order to further their own personal goals.
Previously, in this space, I analyzed the appeal of
in the New York senate race. Those who will vote for Mrs. Clinton are apparently doing so out of loyalty to a liberal philosophy or out of an attraction to a celebrity. Hillary may be the nicest, brightest, most sincere person in the world. But the fact is she has no record and has used her power to bilk the taxpayers into paying for part of her campaign. She’s also sold access to the White House for campaign contributions. These are undeniable facts that would eliminate a candidate in a democracy where voters were really concerned about honesty and accountability. But millions in New York and across the country are not. They are interested in fleeing from the real world and living a life like our pal Jake.
So what’s the solution? The answer is mandatory government classes in all public high schools in all four grades. Got it? That’s not hard is it? Just make the kids learn about their country for four years. Force them to do it. At least then all Americans will have an intellectual exposure to the United States not just a zip code in it.
Why this hasn’t been done is way beyond me, but then again most things are. I believe all U.S. citizens have a responsibility that goes beyond just paying taxes. And, ironically, if more people understood how America came to be and the philosophy behind it — taxes would be lower. Because the USA was founded to get rid of unfair tax rates not perpetuate them. But that’s another column for another time. And if you’ve read this far please nudge Jake and wake him up. He only made it to paragraph three.