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Charlie Vignola: The greatest threat to democracy

Democratic Voices

Posted: September 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.

People are afraid of the wrong things. They’re afraid of the overhyped dangers promoted by a breathless media — serial killers, West Nile virus, illegal immigrants — but they’re blissfully ignorant of the very real dangers much more likely to threaten their lives. On this, the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11, it’s worth pointing out how worrying about the wrong things is actually the biggest threat our country faces.

When we think about Sept. 11, we think about the big threat that started it all: terrorism. Nearly 3,000 Americans died on 9/11 at the hands of religious fanatics, scaring the hell out of the greatest nation on Earth and triggering a decadelong streak of deep paranoia.

Thanks to 9/11, we created a vast new government bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, launched a pre-emptive war on Iraq based on flawed information, ushered in warrantless wiretapping on U.S. citizens, welcomed torture as an intelligence gathering tool, and turned us all into borderline strippers at the airport. Some estimates put America’s counter-terrorism spending after 9/11 at nearly $3 trillion.

All of that and much more were done to protect innocent Americans from being killed by terrorists. But you know what’s interesting? In the 11 years since 9/11, there have been more than 300,000 gun-related deaths in America.

Think about that: three Super Bowl stadiums full of American gun victims have died since 9/11, yet the GOP — stopping at nothing to protect freedom — reflexively shuts down any attempt to even have a civil discussion about how to address this insanity. They insist that common sense gun laws would be a slippery slope leading to an outright banning of guns, and that would turn us into Nazi Germany … or something like that. I can’t keep up with the NRA’s overheated rhetoric.

So to reiterate, you’re about 100 times more likely to be killed by a gun than you are to die in an act of terrorism on U.S. soil. And that, I submit, is worrying about the wrong things.

But you know what I think is the gravest threat to our fair democracy? No, it’s not terrorism, or the national debt, or Obama being a secret Muslim who’s trying to turn America into France by legalizing gay marriage. No, the biggest threat to the future of this great nation is “low information voters.” And if you don’t know what a “low information voter” is, you probably are one.

“Low information voters” is the political term for voters who are either ill-informed or misinformed on the major issues in an election, people who vote instead on superficial factors such as a candidate’s physical appearance or simply whether they find them likeable. They are predominantly working class, and more susceptible to emotion-based advertising and propaganda. In many cases, the term is used to describe people who vote against their own self-interest because they’ve been manipulated by a political party’s campaigning and don’t have the information to judge the veracity of a candidate’s claims.

A number of recent studies from Stanford, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Ohio State showed Fox News viewers to be the most misinformed on global warming, health care, the “Ground Zero” mosque and the Iraq War, as opposed to people who got their news from CNN or NPR. So much for trusting “America’s Newsroom.”

I watched the DNC this past week with my father, an avid Fox News viewer, and was surprised to learn from him that there’s still controversy over whether Obama’s birth certificate was real, that Obama may have snuck into Harvard through shady means since his college records are still a mystery, and that Obama used a ghost writer on his two autobiographies and that this ghost writer admitted both books were full of lies.

I love my father dearly and have great respect for him: He’s my personal working class hero, and the type of small-business owner who defines America. But I must also admit that he’s a low information voter. And he’s far from the only one.

There are tens of millions of them, well-intentioned people casting votes based on flawed information — which is exactly the way we got into the Iraq War.

But in this case, if those low information voters determine the outcome of this election and future ones based on ill-informed opinion rather than hard facts, we could lose something far more valuable than America’s reputation on the world stage: we’ll risk losing Democracy itself.

And that, my friends, is the right thing to worry about.

Charles Vignola is a former College Republican turned liberal Democrat. He lives in Fair Oaks Ranch and works in the motion picture industry.


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