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KARLA MASS: The week's most talked about book


"Americans cannot even name the leaders of their own government," writes Rick Shenkman, author of "Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter."

"We're pretty stupid," he continues. "The problem is a lack of smart voters or an abundance of ignorant ones. The five defining characteristics are sheer ignorance, negligence, wooden-headedness, shortsightedness and bone-headedness."

Shenkman, an Emmy Award-winning, investigative reporter, bestselling author and historian, dissects the pathetic voter. His debate is opinionated, informative and thorough, but harsh. He believes that we're all in this together. I disagree.

All voters aren't dumb. All people who don't vote aren't dumb. Does it really matter?

If myths remain in politics, it matters. If voting is an exercise in patriotism, it matters. If soundbites replace facts, it matters. If polls are false indicators of where voters really stand on the issues, it matters. Shenkman's right. It's time to get real about casting a vote, but not just a ballot, an informed one.

A recent Fox News poll asks this question: "How much do you think Barack Obama/John McCain loves America?"48% said Obama loves America "a great deal," whereas 64% said the same of McCain.

"Polls are just one of many culprits of the irrational voter," writes Shenkman. "Not a week goes by now that we do not have another poll to tell us what the public thinks, feels, fears or hopes. Never before have the public's opinions (confused or not) been so well known. And never before have political leaders deferred to public opinion as much as our leaders have in the last generation."

Television-based campaigns are another debacle. Personality, character, experience, judgment and ideology are vital factors to be considered by the rational voter, according to Shenkman. But television promotes the belief that image is everything.

The patriotism of presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, leads the discussion between two political correspondents on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. This is only the beginning of upcoming candidate debates, political conventions, election nights and presidential inaugurations. Television and debates affect how people vote. Are we paying attention?

Shenkman believes that youth is also to blame in this mess we've made of politics. "They don't read and many don't vote," he argues. He also points out that school curriculum excludes civics ... a bad idea.

His notion that Democrats are angry leaves me puzzled. Who isn't angry about something? If we're all in this "thing" together, then maybe we are all a little annoyed, disappointed and maybe even scared. And enough about the Iraq War. At this point who cares whose to blame. How do we fix it?

How do we become less ignorant a reborn country of smart voters? Shenkman suggests that we take a lively interest in politics. He offers some great ideas on how to defeat political apathy.

Shenkman does more than just rant and rave. He offers solutions. A creative title, a cool red, white and blue cover and lots of good debating in between makes this book worth reading. But something is missing. Well written pages could benefit from a few photos, charts or diagrams to support good research and statistics. Overall, he makes a splendid argument, but what's with the title? Who is Shenkman calling stupid?

You. Me. The People. Who are the people? The people are the poor, the middle class, the young and the old. Shenkman includes himself in the name calling, which saves him from getting a personal response from me about the title of his book. He could have named it, "Just How Stupid Are You?" But he didn't. Smart guy.


Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter


Author: Rick Shenkman

Publisher: Perseus Publishing

Publication Date: June 2008

Listen to an excerpt from Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter

Youth to Power: How Today's Young Voters Are Building Tomorrow's Progessive Majority



Michael Connery


Ig Publishing

Publication Date:

February 2008

Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths about American Voters


Authors: Karen M. Kaufmann, John R. Petrocik, Daron R. Shaw

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA

Publication Date: June 2008

The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Politics


Author: Bryan Caplan

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Publication Date: August 2008

"The Week's Most Talked About Book" is a weekly book review and literary criticism column that publishes every Friday. Selected titles are based on popularity, public opinion, research and observation. Questions, comments and suggestions should be sent to book lover and columnist Karla Mass at She is a content producer for McClatchy Interactive.
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