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Tuesday
Sep042012

Because they can

By now it's been widely documented by fact checker, news report and blog--the amount of deception seasoning Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan's acceptance speeches at the GOP national gathering in Tampa. However, there has not been a lot of talk about why.

The answer as to "why" centers on that elusive swath of swing voters: the ones who may not pay much attention to election season, much less fact check convention speeches. A campaign in Romney-Ryan's position figures that monkey wrenching the truth is worth the risk of public excoriation; to influence those citizens described as "low-information voters", people who have things on their minds other than the names Romney or Obama.

Former Capitol Hill staffer Mike Lofgren described this class of citizens as "voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic."

Given the close outcome of recent presidential elections, and that such voters number in the tens of millions (by Lofgren's estimation), probability dictates that the Romney-Ryan campaign can capture enough "low-information" votes to prevail over President Obama.

At this point it is far too late to do anything to improve the decision making quality of underinformed voters. Essayist Lewis Lapham has suggested that education holds a significant bearing over the choices voters make. Quoting Thomas Jefferson in a piece called "Playing with Fire," Lapham laments how far this country has drifted from the founding father's dream of a "citizen schooled to the tasks of self-government and encouraged 'to judge for himself what would secure or endanger his freedom.'"

In the current political environment there seems to be no end to the talk about what may secure or endanger a citizen's freedom--for which there is no prevailing consensus. Generally speaking, the "low-information" voter bloc represents a key obstacle to any kind of consensus taking shape--over jobs, taxes, etc.

As the country remains split down the middle, ideologically speaking, the tasks of self-government must include an ongoing conversation voters have with one another, especially with those less likely to pay attention or participate. This is the full meaning of being a citizen--a voter who is not so much an individual as he or she is a crucial refence point; one among a vast network of electors rendering what Abraham Lincoln called the "consent of the governed."

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