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POLITICS: Beyond belief!

HastertI used to have a joke game called the “who’s Denny Hastert” game. Essentially none of my college educated friends in San Francisco and Silicon Valley knew who he was despite the fact that he was Speaker of the House of Representatives, and third in line to the Presidency. I played the game one Christmas (I think it was 2001) at a friend’s house where there were a dozen people, including VCs, managers of big companies, etc, etc. None of them knew (although one guy thought that a San Francisco woman was speaker of the House, and he might be right in a few weeks!). I thought then the country was screwed in terms of basic civic literacy (don’t forget I’m a damn immigrant!)

But this is a little more serious. Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite? Apparently not if you’re a senior member of Congress with an intelligence responsibility or the guy in the FBI responsible for counter-terrorism. My mind absolutely boggles.

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3 replies »

  1. I don’t disagree with anything Tim says about civic literacy. It’s appalling. However, a story about how our elected leaders who have responsibility for intelligence have zero idea who they are fighting is, at least to me, a story that can stand by itself. It may be gotcha, but if it shames them into picking up a fricking book, briefing paper, article, whatever, then he’s done a public service.

  2. Well, it’s worse than that, isn’t it. Jeff Stein seems to think members of Al Qaeda are Sunni, and in a strict sense that may be true. But the way it’s routinely reported in the UK makes it completely clear that Wahhabism (also known as Salafism), the Islamic sect followed by Al Qaeda, is not the same as the mainstream Sunni sect, and indeed Wahhabi’s may regard Sunnis as heretics. So Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and the Sunni minority in Iraq (for example) should probably not be regarded as the same grouping.

  3. The very article that you link to illustrates why there’s a civic illiteracy problem here.
    Jeff Stein spent the majority of the article illuminating the ignorance of government officials, and dedicates merely one sentence in answering the very question he posed: “I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni.”
    I think he squandered a perfect opportunity to educate the rest of us about the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite. The article was less about that important differnce as it was about “how dumb our government is.”
    How does that help? When journalists focus on sensationalism and ignore opportunities to benefit the public with good informatioin, they just contribute to the overall problem of ignorance. No wonder nobody knows who Denny Hastert is. But everyone sure knows who Monica Lewinsky is, or who Mark Foley is.
    If we want smarter officials, we should start by making citizens better informed.

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