Why is Bush in office instead of a prison cell? We have only our culture to blame.
I work in a facility that produces high-quality products that involve a lot of high-tech and low-tech in order to get made. As might be expected, this means that persons with doctorates and bachelors spend a lot of time working with people who never went past high school. This provides an interesting opportunity for "educated" persons such as myself to spend time with "normal" people and their points of view.
Despite what many might have you believe, "educated" and "normal" people get along just fine, and I've seen very little resentment between the groups, except in the matter of pay ("educated" persons do, of course, earn more and do less physical labor). Still what surprises me is the intense disparity in knowledge and understanding of political basics between the two groups. "Educated" persons are almost universally well informed in terms of current political developments and realities, while "normal" people are not.
Considering that the "educated" people are not privvy to special information or grand secrets or anything, this presents an interesting case. If both groups are simply referring to information they find freely and easily accessible, why is their knowledge so different? Obviously the answer is cultural. "Educated" people value political knowledge while "normal" people do not.
But why? Thoughout America's history, very often it has been the "normal" people, lacking in degrees and academic distinction but nonetheless very intelligent and committed in regards to thing such as labor or justice, who have brought about change. Martin Luther King may have had a doctorate, but many of his friends and followers did not have the opportunity to recieve such higher education. Most of the great union leaders and grassroots activists of the 19th and 20th centuries did not have a degree, in fact many were barely literate. Why has this group, which has such a strong interest in using the government to protect them from bad bosses, unfair pay and unsafe working conditions, reached the point where they may not even know who the Vice President is, much less his dirty past?
There are, of course, many causes, but in the end they all coalesce to one big problem: American culture does not place much value on education, and so only those who have it know it's value. This was not always the case, but in an era when school budgets are hacked and slashed and standardized tests are the only means of measuring success, education has been greatly devalued. Additionally, "useful" knowledge (such as political realities) now has to compete with an overwhelming onslaught of entertaining but does not move one up in life. No one ever became president because he had an encyclopedic knowledge of sports scores, and no one ever got a bill passed due to they knew who the father of a teen pop-idol's baby was.
This slam on education appears to have started in the late 60s and early 70s, when TV and radio became more and more prevalent. While there were certainly large numbers of politically ignorant and socially unmotivated persons before TV became omnipresent, the rise of entertainment in American society coincides with a disinterest in education among persons who do not have it. Lower class persons who may have seen education as a means to improve their social standing now see entertainment as much more important, since it distracts them from their low position in life and difficult living conditions.
The only solution here is to begin the process of pulling the wool out of everyone's ears and ripping the rose-colored glasses off their faces. The American poor, which is almost exclusively poorly educated, should be exposed to the power a good education can give them. While it is very difficult for them to compete with large entities through physical or economic means, well-educated (or at least well-informed) members of the lower classes of American society are invaluable for checking the power of the rich and ultra-rich classes. The same classes which not only deny a class structure in America exists, but who have run roughsod over the wealth, property, and lives of anyone below them in the class structure.
So we must do what we can to educate those who have less education. We should make clear the importance of turning off the TV or radio or videogame and spending just a few minutes each day learning about the political and social realities we live in. Only then will Democracy work, because only then will we be the informed populace the Framers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution.