I don't think one has to be profoundly knowledgable about history and political theory to be a political representative. I think, as a general rule, the more you know the better, but a compassionate instinct and an empathetic spirit can go a long way. What I don't quite understand, and what frightens me a great deal is the modern tendency for politicians, particularly right-wing ones, to be embarrassingly ignorant of almost everything and willing, even eager, to shot your mouth off at every opportunity. My dad used to like to say, it is better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. In Canada we have such startlingly ignorant politicians as Rona Ambrose and Peter Van Loan. Stephen Harper himself is remarkably ignorant about many issues but he does not, generally, spout off at the mouth.
But in the US this phenomenon has reached new heights with such politicians as Sarah Palin and now Michele Bachmann. (It is deeply unfortunate that so many of the recent example have been women.) Recently Bachmann told a Republican audience that the "founding fathers" of the US "worked tirelessly to end slavery." You can see interesting stories on the subject here and here. This ignorance is frightening, startling, and depressing. It is even more depressing that there are many people who are equally ignorant and are willing to support people like Bachmann because they think somehow that their folksy public image is some form of anti-establishmentarianism.
There are, of course, ignoramuses in all parties. However, it seems that the right-wing examples are often more eager to shoot their mouths off in order to display their ignorance and, frankly I can tolerate a great deal more from compassionate individuals who are naively ignorant of the facts than I can from an intolerant, bigoted, mean-spirited right-wing jerk. Politicians like Bachmann and Palin are scary omens that as corporate media gains ever greater control of political discourse ignorance becomes more and more the norm in politics and the gradual dumbing down of the population means that fewer and fewer people are going to be able to detect these basic levels of ignorance. In Canada the controversy surrounding the last prorogation of Parliament demonstrated just how ignorant the population in Canada is concerning the basic facts of our political system. How long until we have our own Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin?
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