The only thing everyone seems to agree on, in fact, is that the American people are entirely blameless. InJust How Stupid Are We?, best-selling historian and renowned myth-buster Rick Shenkman takes aim at our great national piety: the wisdom of the American people. The hard truth is that American democracy is more direct than ever - but voters are misusing, abusing, and abdicating their political power. Americans are paying less and less attention to politics at a time when they need to pay much more: Television has dumbed politics down to the basest possible level, while the real workings of politics have become vastly more complicated.
Shenkman offers concrete proposals for reforming our institutions - the government, the media, civic organizations, political parties - to make them work better for the American people. But first, Shenkman argues, we must reform ourselves.
©2008 Rick Shenkman; (P)2008 Audible, Inc.
"At a moment when Americans are choosing leaders, Rick Shenkman's brisk, provocative and vigorously argued book implores us to rethink our roles as citizens and improve our political environment. There could not be a better time for this important message." (Michael Beschloss)
This book presents some very interesting points about the problems with the American voter but does so in a very round about fashion. The first several chapters finds the reader assaulted by a storm of statistics--one after another--which are interesting at first but get boring and redundant eventually. Imagine having the results of 45 independent studies about the reasons why people like vanilla ice cream read to you in succession. After the third set of statistics you can't help thinking, 'Okay, I get. Now what's you point?' It helps if the author takes a moment to connect a statistic to the greater picture to prevent the statistics from combining into one long run-on thought. The statistics are all relevant though some are superfluous.
The next section would offend most Americans who like to believe that there is something inherently superior about our world view. It is very cynical about the average American attention span and propensity to absorb trivial social details (i.e. Britney Spears/Paris Hilton) while lacking similar levels of knowledge about politics, structure of government, and history. I expected the book to take a cynical view from the onset but I was surprised how nonconstructive the criticisms were. The author beats up on us pretty badly (albeit deservedly so). This did finally change in the final chapter with a discussion of social and institutional changes needed to remedy the problem. This discussion was a long time in coming however. Though I appreciated all of the points the author eventually made, I fear many people will get frustrated and tune him out before finishing the book (perhaps proving his point).
The main point of thought: the author suggests that some people are in fact too stupid to vote then provides some insightful food for thought for both sides of the argument. I think this food for thought provides the real value of this book and makes it worth the read despite its flaws.
I have to begin by saying I'm not sure why conservatives feel so victimized by this book. This book is NOT an attack on either party. On the contrary it is an attack on ignorant voters who don't know enough to justify being on one side or the other. The author is not arguing that everyone should vote for the Liberal/Progressive candidate, he is arguing that most people don't know enough about the issues or where each party stands to make an informed decision one way or the other. So, I have to shake my head at the rampent percieved victimization of Conservatives who couldn't even make it "through the first two chapters" without feeling slighted. Perhaps if they had, they would have learned something.
As for the book generally, I think anyone who is interested in the political process should consider getting this book. It's the best way to be so disgusted with the average voter that you will feel obligated to get out there and cast a knowledgeable vote. Whether you are Republican or Democrat you shouldn't be offended by this book, you should be offended that there are millions of people out there influencing elections based on innacurate information without bothering to educate themselves. THAT should be offensive to you. We live in a democracy and one of the most important function every citizen plays is to cast an informed ballot on Nov 4th every two years. With that in mind, this book should be a kick in the pants for the average voter, and if it motivates even one person to do a little homework before they vote then its a 5-star book as far as I'm concerned.
While the stats that overwhelm a majority of the book do a great job of supporting Shenkman's primary argument, that the current American voter is less civic-minded and more influenced by TV and entertainment, he uses this argument to bash one side's faith in the voter and the other's manipulation of the voter.
As someone who feels that BOTH parties have good and bad qualities, and BOTH have let us down, I was really hoping for a more unbiased look at American politics. Shenkman spent most of the book appearing only mildly one-sided, only to end the book completely left.
In the end, it felt more like a Michael Moore movie... good stats and facts completely manipulated to be one-sided when they have ample application to politics and corruption in general and across the board.
If you're a Liberal, you'll love it.
If you're a Conservative, you'll be offended.
If you dislike the polarities of both parties, it's a somewhat interesting read if you take it with a grain of salt and leave the author's choice of application behind.
I enjoyed the book. The auther made excellent points about the real fault of current political problems .... the American voter (or non-voter). However, I would estimate that 90% of his examples focused on right-wing abuses. There is no doubt that such abuses exist but I feel he could have spent just as much time on left-wing political shenanigins. It was as if Jay Leno only told "Republican Jokes" and never focused on the humorous (and sad) stories related to Blue State Leaders. That said, this is a good book and I recommend it.
I think 5th grade was the last time I was talked down to like in this book by this elitist. What the heck was I thinking. I know it is important to listen to other points of view, but this guy will win no one over and I am sure he will alienate some of his side. I lasted two chapters and then moved it to an old iPod, so I could get the pleasure of destroying this drive with a hammer. Someone be sure to let me know if I missed something in the latter part of the book. Don't bother to tell me how uneducated I am, because I got all of that I needed in the those two chapters.
Lets begin on a positive note. The narrator is great! buy books that are read by this guy, just not this one.
The author is a Journalism professor in Seattle. I can accept that most journalists are left leaning. The "profession" attracts that type of person by design. It makes sense. However, I would also like to believe that your average Journalist is smarter than the average person. The more I read the more I find that it is not the case.
This book is full of errors of logic. This book is actually an assault on logic. When the author does, perhaps mistakenly, make a cogent point, his premises are entirely false.
If you are looking for a philosophically titillating argument about democratic politics, this is sadly not the book you are looking for. I had such high hopes that it was. But I was, alas, crestfallen.
However, if you are looking for a baseless attack on the Bush administration and a petulant rant about the ignorance of southern "hicks" (eg Republicans), than this is the book for you!
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