Not Fit for Dinner: Staying Informed—and Sane—During Election Season

Each Friday in Not Fit for Dinner, C. Ryan Knight explores political issues and the preconceptions guiding our understanding of and responses to them.

Reading is difficult to do.

Last week I touched on the subject of consuming news carefully and offered a few pointers on how to do so. If you’ll permit me, I’d like to offer a bit more advice this week—this time on ways to spend time leading up to November’s primary. The combination of two pieces I read today drove me to try to offer a bit more advice this week.

The first piece, published by Politico, discussed how a recent Pew Research poll showed many Americans feel “annoyed” by and “exhausted” from the election campaign leading up to November. While a slight majority thought the election will be informative, less than 50 percent of respondents expressed doubt that the race would be exciting.

The other piece—an article on Americans’ disengagement from politics by David Sirota—is far more worrisome. In it, he cites a different study: one revealing that [Sirota’s words] “many Americans have wholly tuned out of politics to the point where they can’t even correctly answer the most basic questions about our government.” He casts doubt on claims that Americans have simply become stupider, suggesting instead that corruption has brought about “an unfortunate-but-understandable form of willful ignorance—the kind whereby many Americans so accurately perceive the fraud being perpetrated on them that they have decided to simply tune out.”

If we’ve learned anything from the two major political movements in the past few years in America—the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street—it’s that those Americans who have tuned out politics can continue doing so only to their own detriment.

Here’s the tricky part, though: to tell someone to simply start following news about the election campaign (and news in general) is like sending a sheep to the slaughter. It’s all too overwhelming. And, really, it’s all too much. You really don’t need to catch every single thing, scan every Twitter by FOX News or The Boston Globe, or click on every link your friends post about the election on Facebook. Talk about information overload.

So, here are a few ways to get your feet wet if you generally shy away from politics.

  • Read some of the key documents from American history: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are good starting points. You can move on to presidential speeches, The Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers, and the Confederate Constitution to gain additional perspective of differing ideas that have affected and shaped American history.
  • Start reading about the election campaign in a weekly newspaper rather than a daily newspaper. I read The Economist each week and find it useful, but other options like Bloomberg Businessweek are available, too. You can also read these in libraries or online if you prefer. It’s less to read, and these weekly newspapers are able to tie together and analyze recent events, which helps give you a clearer perspective on events’ significance.
  • Head to President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s websites to learn more about their platforms. Obama’s issues page combines brief paragraphs on different issues with supplemental videos. Romney’s issues page (to which I alluded in my column on his immigration policy) is fairly thorough on some issues. Compare what you find to what you read in the weekly newspapers suggested above.

These suggestions aren’t an end-all but a starting point. If you are going to submit to governing (or soon-to-govern) authorities (Romans 13), these suggestions are ways of gaining a better understanding of what you’re in for. Submission is easier when you know not just what you’re supposed to do but why you’re supposed to do those things (even if you disagree with the reasons), and what the back story is that accounts for how we arrived where we are today.

About C. Ryan Knight

C. Ryan Knight teaches English at Randolph Community College in Asheboro, NC, and he lives with his wife outside Greensboro, NC.
Email: knight.cr@gmail.com


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