Most people are politically retarded

I’ve spoken to enough people and heard enough cookie-cutter stock opinions to realize that most people suffer from political retardation. I’m not talking about ideology, there will always be a wide variety of political views that range all over the crazy scale, I’m down with that. I’m not even talking about an ignorance of the basics of government structure (although that is certainly a problem). I’m talking about a much more pervasive set of shared cultural beliefs that blind people to even the most basic understanding of political science. This retarded political delusion is actually so devoid of logic that I sometimes wonder how we’ve accomplished anything politically in the country.

Let’s start with the most basic retarded view, this is the one that all other retarded opinions are built on. Congress sucks. Politics is a bad business. Politicians are out to screw over the common people. You know the drill. Here are a few of the assumptions that comprise this worldview.

-Politicians will lie to get in office. They are motivated by greed over the well being of the people.

  • Politicians lack the “common sense” that the salt of the earth types have. If only politicians would just listen to the people then things would be better

Both of these ideas are so commonly understood that it is a wonder nobody ever thinks to realize that they flatly contradict each other. If politicians are bad, the people are smart and good, and the bad politicians keep getting reelected (by the people presumably), then are the people really all that smart and good? Wouldn’t that mean that the ones with all the common sense are continually being duped?

Let’s try this again. If politicians are so manipulative and crafty that they say whatever stupid shit that will get them elected , then that is the stupid shit people want to hear. Then are not the people themselves responsible for wanting to hear such stupid shit?

Furthermore, why doesn’t one of the retards just run for office themselves and blow Washington’s mind with how this common sense thing is done? Oh right, the awesome common people would be too wooed by the bad politicians to elect the obvious correct choice. Guess the people actually suck.

There is a reason these political retards can’t connect those very simple dots. This macro worldview falls apart if you analyze its components, but it only exists to provide comfort to the retard. Whenever someone feels that they don’t have complete control over their lives, it is just easier to blame a perceived status quo for it. The reasonable response would be to try to identify the policies and individuals that are the source of your problems and exercise your political power accordingly, but why even bother to think that much? You can just assure yourself that you are actually smart and worthy but you are being held back by something much bigger, additionally it is easy to establish a sense of community with similarly insecure retards, instant self efficacy!

Since the delusion is built for this very specific purpose, it has built in protection from logic. Take a look at a few more of the natural assumptions of political retardedness.

  • Politicians are bad for just following the polls. They will do or say whatever they can to stay in power.

  • Politicians are bad for ignoring the will of the people are voting in ways they don’t agree with

You’d be surprised how often I hear both of these at the same time. You see the retards are armed with conventional wisdom to cover all situations. If the politician does what the people want then they are just being poll chasing opportunists determined to maintain their power, if they vote the other way then they are flagrantly ignoring the will of the people. Politicians bad, people good!

The truth is apparently a little too complicated for most people and not nearly as comforting. The American system is actually very well set up, but politics is the flawed tool of a very flawed people. Sometimes politicians are interested mostly in power, but mostly they are people who have a view of the best way to do things. In order to get elected and actually be able to do something about it they have to do stupid pandering shit because people are stupid and like to be pandered to. Luckily this is a representative democratic system, so even the ones aiming for power must act in a way that is pleasing enough to their constituents so as to stay in power. If our representatives suck it’s because we do. Also, people holding public office are usually more intelligent than average, believe it or not.

Another thing that most people seriously misunderstand is the party system. They see two options and feel like that is very limiting, this is because they’re retarded. Our parties are of course broad coalitions that are split according to the two most predominate political ideologies. Nobody completely agrees with a party platform, the purpose of the thing is to compromise among several different interests until you have a coalition big enough to win and to govern. You’d think it wouldn’t be that difficult to pick which one of the drastically opposing world views you are closest to and then work within the system to influence that group to represent your interests. But retards would rather pretend that things would be better if thousands of individuals with every conceivable combination of positions just fought it out in a gigantic clusterfuck to crown a winner by a plurality of .4%.

You’ll get these popular bits.

  • The parties are pretty much the same anyway

  • It’s just the lesser of two evils

Of course the two major parties are nothing alike, but you’d actually have to learn something to understand that. No the true reason for this sad misunderstanding of parties comes from the same place as all of this retardation, self assurance. Everyone wants to always be right, and that’s hard to do if you were proven wrong. If you actually commit to a party then you have to get your hands dirty sometimes, eventually your policy or president will become unpopular and the political winds will shift, and who wants to be on the hook for that? It’s so much easier to cast dispersions from on high, separate from all that lowly partisan bickering, because of course you knew all along right?

Those retards who identify themselves as Independents are political cowards. They are the backseat driver, the Monday morning quarterback, they’ll lazily look over your shoulder and tell you everything you are doing wrong. They benefit from perpetual inculpability and perfect hindsight. We are to believe they could do much better.

There are so many more of these retarded mainstream ideas. Everyone knows them, they’ll repeat them by rote as everyone else nods in agreement. Why people are to intent on claiming ultimate knowledge about things they don’t bother to actually learn about I’ll never understand. All I know is I would much rather have a discussion with someone who completely disagreed with me on every single issue than be anywhere near the open mouth of anyone who holds these retarded views.

Retarded is perhaps a harsh word to use, but I think yes, stunted logic generally applies, as well as gross self-serving hypocrisy and convenient forgetfulness. Right and left. But people are people, eh mate?

I largely agree with you.

Politicians have honed ‘nothing speak’ to an artform though, and that has left so many people believing it IS too complicated, they CAN’T understand. Both are not true.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of someone wicked smart, explaining something well out of our depth, to us. It’s a great time, a great gift, for someone so knowing to deign to offer you insight into something you have no knowledge of, perhaps.

Why can’t we make politicians out of a couple of these type of people? What do you call that skill, anyway?

I’m glad you wrote this for us, I firmly believe that now is the moment when thinkers need to think, communicators need to communicate.

Speak up, speak out. The country needs it, the world needs it. It’s time.

And along that note, I think everyone needs to get back into politics, from Frank the slightly smarter plumber than Joe to Fred the Professor. If the political situation is bad now, it’s because not enough people are participating in the political process (Too many P’s there), and they aren’t participating, because they haven’t bothered to learn the basics of government and political theory. It used to be different. I’ve read a lot of books about politics back in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, and people used to be a lot more politically aware.

There are a lot of adults out there who don’t know when a bill in congress goes to committee or what the amendments all are, or what the different sections are in the Constitution. Our political class is weakened by this lack of knowledge, and we wind up believing what the OP described very eloquently (although I agree that “retarded” is a bit strong. It’s not being stupid, but being ignorant, and the best thing about ignorance is that it can be cured.)

I’ll admit that I used to be one of these people. I didn’t have enough political knowledge to get through a Tom Clancy novel, but it was actually the SDMB that turned me around and showed me the light. Well, that and Sydney Hook, who is my favorite philosopher and probably the closest thing I have to a hero in real life. I bought a couple of textbooks and taught myself the basics, and like everything else, politics gets a lot more interesting once you learn something about it.

But it all comes down to learning about government. If you don’t know those details, you’re not going to understand what it’s all about. And the fact that we’ve had these numbskull presidents and doofus congressmen who actually keep getting back into office because there’s nothing better out there says a lot more about the average Joe Citizen than it does about the politician. When we force ourselves to learn the system, we will be able to force them to get better.

Maybe this will help.

If you are referring to the Independent Party of America or a particular party called the “Independents” then I’m not sure what you mean by “political cowards”. They seem to be organizing platforms centered around issues that are most relevant to them.

If you are referring to people at large who do not readily align themselves with either of the two major parties, but vote based on the issues or their pocketbooks, then I can’t see how they are cowards. I fall into this category, I tend to vote more to the center since I support some of the ideas of the right and some of the ideas of the left (It is possible, you know).

If you are referring to people who abstain from voting and then criticize the direction that our government takes us, then they are much worse then cowards.

I think this just boils down to a general anti-elitism that a lot of Americans hold onto. It seems that this is reinforced by politicians and editorial writers who decry the plight of the middle class.

When contrasted with other parties and other systems of government, this statement is not true. I seriously doubt that either party would disband the military or socialize all industries or attempt. Both parties are quite happy with the lobbying and patronage system that currently exists in government (not a criticism, just saying). And neither party would attempt to commit genocide on a segment of population. So they have some commonalities, and some differences.

Maybe politicians are smart enough do things that are good for them, and don’t care what the social costs and benefits are? Yglesias, no ingenue, writes:

Rational ignorance. Because your vote doesn’t count, no matter how much you tell yourself it does, it doesn’t pay for the average person to educate himself about politics. Much easier to just affiliate with whatever social group you prefer.

In other words, people are “retarded” because in the current system, it doesn’t pay to be smart. Doesn’t mean that people are inherently stupid, though of course half of them have double-digit IQs.

I didn’t bother responding to the rest of the OP, but it’s basically the same old status-seeking anti-populist pablum without a bit of serious critical thought.

In reading your OP, I couldn’t help but wonder if you have a poli sci degree yourself. I know this sounds like many of the discussions I had with my classmates and, heck, I was nodding along with you until this bit.

If you do have a political science background, I would have to ask if you’ve read Burnham’s Theory of Selective Class Demobilization? He pretty much would say you’re the dumb one, based on what you’ve said here.

Burnham argues that the parties have grown increasingly closer to one another since the 1960s or so. Politics has become a game of getting as close to the middle as possible, so as to reach as many voters as possible. And that, of course, makes logical sense. The problem is that this move toward the middle actually alientates the less educated voter pool, because they have no idea what they are supposed to believe.

Look at it this way: back in the day, you could easily identify which of the two parties someone was in by just asking them a few simple questions. Are you prochoice or pro life? Should we tax the rich or give them tax cuts? Should we give more money to the military or to schools? Should welfare be easier or harder to get? Do you attend church regularly? Things like that (yes, I realize the example is not perfect, but it’s Saturday night and I’m digging back to junior year ;)).

But now, both parties are trying so hard to move toward the middle, that’s all out the window.

Which candidate in this last election was against abortion? Neither of them.
Which one was for gay marriage? Neither of them.
Which one wanted to extend the war back into Afghanistan? The Democrat.
On and on. Just stuff that isn’t traditionally the case.

The problem with this is that the less educated folks used to just follow party cues, because they didn’t have either the ability or the time to be well versed in politics. Now, they can’t do that so much.

Why do you think Fox likes to break things down so simply? Obama hates America, Obama is a communist, Obama wants to kill your babies and your grandma. Because it is that stuff that the uneducated right is looking for- “Oh, I love America, hate commies, and love babies! I must be opposite of Obama-- I’m a republican!” It makes it easier.

My point being- the parties ARE much more alike than they used to be. I read a study that actually operationalized the changes then did a statistical model on it and there is, under that study at least, a significant difference. I wish I could dig it up, maybe I’ll dig through my old class note books and find it tonight.

This was quite literally shown in my Poli Sci Senior Seminar class :D.

Most voters are smart enough to know that a lot of candidates bring good intentions (and sometimes even good ideas) into the political arena - but that they become transformed into self-seeking smoke-blowing politicians whose most vital goal is to get re-elected and lay aside enough capital and influence to guarantee a lush life after politics.

That’s where the “common sense” comes in. What’s dumb (or maybe in the beginning just lack of experience) is to expect that the next set of would-be office holders will somehow be different. Will the people who put Obama in office (myself included) turn out to be dumb? Wait and see.

Apart from the impaired perceptions that lead the OP to label the common folk “retarded”, it’s strategically moronic beyond belief. People who know someone is looking down their nose at them or laughing at them will make sure that person’s ideology/candidates will be paid back in kind. The Right is far from immune from this sort of snickering but they cover their contempt better than the Left, for whom it’s always been a worse handicap.

I agree with Diosa by the way - it’s getting harder and harder to tell the two major parties apart. I’m reminded of some allegorical book I read once upon a time, something about a farm with pigs and other livestock.

To the people who can’t distinguish the Republicans and Democrats:

What the hell planet are you living on? Notice the health care debate that’s been dominating the news for the past few months? Or the election last year? Honestly think the differences are small?

I know lots of people who wish the Democrats were further left etc etc, but I can’t take anyone seriously who doesn’t think the Democrats and Republicans are substantially different. The median Democratic congressman wants either a single payer system or a strong government alternative to private insurance. The median Republican is still trying to figure out whether they like this whole Medicare thing. Ditto social security.

What am I saying is that the people who are trained to study this- the political scientists who actually mathematically calculate statistics and shit- are saying that under most operationalized definitions of what it means to be “democrat” and “republican” there is not a statistically significant difference. Sure, you can point to one thing or even more, but there still - over all- has been a tremendous move toward the middle for both parties. They aren’t identical, no, but over the last half a century, they’ve grown increasingly closer to one another-- all at the harm of the majority of the voting population.


I know the political theory literature has been predicting this for the past 50 years. I also know that there’s a fair bit of bullshit in claiming that it’s actually happening (trust me, there is no one way to measure ideological polarization like that). Biggest “end of ideology” period was the 1950s. Since then we’ve polarized over this, that, and the other thing, bouncing back and forth like ping pong balls. First race, then church-state/abortion, always defense. Now it’s health care, retirement insurance, taxes, and gay rights. There are always some exceptions (vanishingly few these days in Congress), but the general pattern holds. There are as many reasons to expect increased polarization now (strong media source effects for example) as to expect convergence.

Its about Money and Power.

I agree with athelas. There’s nothing mystical about politics that makes it extremely hard to learn and follow. But why should the average person do so? Given a choice between reading up on a candidate’s position and say, studying to improve their careers or spending time with their family, why should they choose to study politics? Their vote has much less power in terms of making their own lives better.

So people decide how to vote by choosing social groups, and this actually is a pretty good substitute. They listen to the opinions of people they like, and they join the prevailing worldview of the group of people they most closely prefer to associate with. And you know what? It works. My guess is that if you took 100 people who voted Democrat for no other reason than that’s what their peers did, and 100 Republicans who did the same, and then you put them both through a non-partisan intensive education program about the political system and made them learn all the policy choices of their various representatives, the vast majority of them would still vote exactly the same way.

Those of us who spend hours a day thinking about and talking about politics are the equivalent of Star Trek fans. We follow it to the degree we do not because we’re exhibiting rational political behavior, but because it’s our hobby. We enjoy the debate and the fights for their own sake.

I think one of the reasons this view persists is that it’s in the best interests of the moneyed elites to convince us the rest of us that democracy is a racket instead of our best bet for justice and a fair shake. Whenever I hear someone talking about how crooked and ineffectual politicians are my first thought is “You poor sap, you’re getting played and you don’t even know it.”

Cynicism is naive.

This is dead on. I personally get a thrill from politics and government, and that is my chosen entertainment in life, much as sports or what have you is for others. I don’t expect anyone else to feel the same way. Anything from complete apathy to fierce partisanship is all ok with me, my beef is with the seeming majority of people that couple their complete ignorance with an insistence to pretend to have it all figured out.

Politics is the one thing that everyone thinks they have an informed opinion on. Unfortunately in the absence of actual information all people have to base their opinions on are these tired (retarded) bits of “common sense” that border on conspiracy theory thinking. How many times I’ve told people that I study politics only to have them confidently regurgitate this stuff as if they are enlightening me.

As for the difference between parties, right now it is pretty big and shows no sign of shrinking. Of course you have to keep this in perspective, the more stable the state the lesser the differences between its parties because the people generally share more base values and culture for the divergence to splinter from. We are a very stable country in that we all generally agree what is good (democracy, freedom, mom’s apple pie) and we disagree on how to get there. Sure there are countries that have much more varied parties in the mainstream, but this is because they have less commonality and therefore less stability.

We don’t have major parties that would disband the military or socialize everything because only the fringes would want to change the country that much. The parties obviously have to operate within the parameters of the mainstream, but this doesn’t mean that the parties are in any way the same. It should not be difficult at all to chose which side you are closest to now, they really are that distinct.

It is possible for differences between parties to get smaller and smaller until they are basically the same thing, that happens when there is a broad national consensus reached. The most blatant example of this for us happened around 1816, you basically end up with a single party system. This occurrence is as beautiful as it is rare, but always fleeting. The natural ebb and flow of faction will inevitably split and Viola! Your party system is back.

It is possible I suppose for the parties to just get so close that they are barely distinguishable, although it would be more Utopian than it would be terrible. If people were ever truly happy to argue for a sliver of difference without splintering creating a new party system then we would have reached a kind of national agreement that is hard to imagine. That’s not where we’re at.

People who contend that the parties are the same will try to list policy similarities and such, as if our political divisions are a simple collection of positions that could just get closer and closer to each other. Of course the Democrats and Republicans today are coming from two very distinct world views, just entirely different and opposing ways of thinking. Sometimes the policies will cross over, sometimes the culture changes so much that entire planks are dropped or modified, sometimes a candidate will diverge from the platform in certain parts, and sometimes the party will strategically change certain aspects at certain times…but the entire force behind their philosophies couldn’t be more different. Liberal and conservative have existed before we even had names for them.

I agree that all early proponents of OCB should attend as partners. Others should allow their possibilities regarding the second layer.

Third fortress: Dude, we go back a lot and you keep any chance at a describing it ultimately useless, though I welcome another draught.

FTR, I will give off the COMPLETELY-USESS turns to those of the unimpressive kid, thoigh he fooed us out.

Ok so let’s work with this example. There’s a senator who believes global warming legislation would be good but votes against it because his constituents are against it. It’s self serving in the sense that it advances his career, but in the process of advancing himself did he not fulfill the purpose of this whole representation thing? The incentive of reelection did it’s job. I mean it sucks that there are states that are against good environmental legislation, but they are supposed to elect people who perform to their satisfaction or else they get the boot. I’m just amazed that people would actually elect someone to do what they want and then criticize him for doing just that.

I understand rational ignorance. I don’t think everyone should educate themselves and be all civic. It would be fine if the prevalent attitude was “let someone else worry about politics”, that way it would be left to those who were educated in the area or at least had a strong interest to advance. Instead everyone sees themselves as informed about politics, and this stubborn uninformed conventional wisdom really mucks up the process. It makes it more painfully pandering than it needs to be with all this common sense average folk rhetoric, ironically the political retards help create the very problem they complain about.

Also, I don’t know what sort of status you think I’m trying build, I’ve never been accused of being anti-populist, and you’ll just have to take my word that I have indeed engaged in at least a bit of serious critical thought.

Well, actually, I am one of those people. This is by no means a universal view. Moreover, it is exactly what even the most basic spatial model predicts. Have you read Downs 1957? Black 1958? This is pretty basic stuff as far as political economy goes.

Maybe yes and maybe no. If preferences are drifting, parties drift as well. This is not necessarily bad for anyone.

As to the OP’s other arguments, some of them are easily as retarded as the views he claims to criticise.