After 35 years in politics, I am seldom surprised by the venom that flows from the mouths of liberals when one of their sacred cows is criticized. But the “fan mail” following my speech a week ago to the tea-party convention in Nashville has been truly amazing.

I spoke to the opening session of the event about why it is a good thing that John McCain was not elected president. I expected those remarks to be controversial in some quarters, but the only controversy in the news coverage of my speech was about my suggestion that we need a civics literacy test for voters.

Evidently, you cannot question the value of universal suffrage, and in the liberal lexicon, universal suffrage means not only that there should be no unreasonable or discriminatory bars to voting, but that all adults should be forced to vote, no matter how ignorant or disconnected to the civic affairs of the community.

I did not say in Nashville that all 67 million Obama voters are illiterate rabble who would fail a civics literacy test. What I did suggest and what I believe is that in the 2008 presidential election, the margin of victory for Obama was provided by people who would not be at the polls if we had meaningful civics literacy requirements for voting. Hence my statement that the lack of a civics literacy requirement is one reason we have a committed socialist ideologue in the White House today.

That statement provoked a stream of angry e-mail messages from outraged Obama voters, many of whom proudly proclaimed their advanced degrees in art history, Egyptology and political science. The message was as consistent as it was strident: What an ignoramus I must be to question the educational level of Obama voters!

My tea-party remarks had nothing to do with educational credentials or even IQ. We are all painfully aware that Barack Obama, like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton before him, got more votes from college professors than his Republican opponent. My remarks were aimed at the electorate’s lack of civics literacy, which is quite different. Literacy in civics and American history is not necessarily enhanced by additional years of higher education devoted to increasingly specialized expertise in some field.

I have often suggested that new voters should be required to pass the civics literacy test already given to immigrants who want to become naturalized citizens. Yet, my suggestion was twisted into the idea that I want to see a return to “Jim Crow laws” that were used to keep blacks from voting.

This distortion of my proposal requires two acts of self-deception. First, it requires you to believe that minorities will fail any civics test, an idea that is highly insulting to all minorities. Secondly, it requires a willful disregard of the real history of Jim Crow laws. Blacks were not kept from voting by the laws themselves but the blatant discriminatory way they were administered by local officials. It is absurd to claim that any civics literacy test will be discriminatory, yet that is how my proposal was described by leftist bloggers and liberal journalists like E.J. Dionne.

Predictably, in this age of Internet video messaging, left-wing blogs and liberal advocacy groups sent the video clip of my remarks to their members and asked them to “send Tancredo a message.” The messages generated by this organized temper tantrum ran the gamut from questions about my patriotism to solemn prayers that I would get some horrible disease and die a painful death – and soon.

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The potential for “elected despots” was well understood by our nation’s founders, and they devised mechanisms in the Constitution to reduce that danger. They understood that throughout history, democracies had followed certain patterns and cycles, cycles ending in tyranny. So, instead of a pure democracy, they designed and established a republic organized as a representative democracy, with checks and balances and other innovations to help safeguard our liberties.

Voting your own short-term self-interest over the common good is a problem as old as Rome, but today it has taken on a new urgency. Using the powers of government to expropriate other people’s wealth and property enters the pandemic stage when half the voting public pays no taxes and a third of adults are government employees or living on government pensions.

Can civics literacy programs in our schools and civics literacy tests for voters hold these forces in check? Maybe it’s not the whole answer, but to me, it sure seems like a good start.

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