Back when this country was originally founded, the only people who were allowed to vote were Christian white men over 21 who owned property. If you were a woman, poor, or a non-white, or of a questionable religious background, forget it. This, of course, changed over the years where any U.S. citizen over the age of 18 can now vote, but I do not believe we are really any better as a result of this. Let me explain...
I happened to watch the last installment of the "Tonight Show" starring Jay Leno on May 29, 2009, just before the reigns were turned over to Conan O'Brien. On the show, Leno played highlights of his "Jaywalking" segment whereby he would interview the general public and ask people simple questions about current events and government. He seemed to have a knack for attracting every crackpot and screwball answer you can or cannot imagine. It was very funny, scary, but funny nonetheless. Here is a small sample:
"Q: Who was the first President of the United States?"
"A: Benjamin Franklin"
"Q: What was the Gettysburg Address? Have you heard of it?"
"A: Yes, I've heard of it; I don't know the exact address though."
"Q: (Pointing at an American flag waving in the wind); How many stars are on the flag?"
"A: It's moving too fast for me to count them."
I say "scary" because it makes me uneasy knowing these clods are probably registered voters and their uneducated vote will count every bit as much as an educated vote, which affects everybody's future, including mine. The media and politicians may love such an arrangement where they can dazzle and sway the uneducated voters. As for me, I wish we had some sort of voter certification.
To me, voting is a rare privilege that should be cherished. It is the one area where we can peacefully exercise control over our government and influence our own future. As such, I take it seriously. Unfortunately, too many people do not, which is why I firmly believe there should be some sort of certification program to qualify people to become voters. This country is too big and important to leave it in the hands of those who do not care to understand the basic principles of this country. The stakes are simply too high.
When applying for American citizenship, those born abroad must learn some American history, some civics lessons, and pass a test as devised by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If they pass it, they must pledge an oath of allegiance to the United States. In other words, we make a big deal out of becoming an American, and the new citizens tend to take their civic responsibilities seriously. However, the average native-born voter treats it frivolously. I seriously doubt most of the registered voters could pass the same test, but should be required to take it or something like it.
If we were to devise a certification program, what should it include? Hopefully, some civics, some history, and some basic economics and sociology. Obviously, people should understand at both the federal and state level: the branches of government and their responsibilities, the Constitution, and who the elected and appointed officials are (and their track records). Attendance at refresher classes or seminars should be a prerequisite, as well as attendance at some debates.
How we implement such a certification program at this stage is not nearly as important as recognizing the basic need for it. We do not take voting seriously in this country and we have become the laughing stock on the world stage. It is in this country's best interests, as well as the world's, that we have voters who are better educated.
Just remember, "suffrage" means the right to vote, not to suffer. Unfortunately, I think it is working the other way around these days.
Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.