Responsiblity and Knowledge

A very interesting conversation went on this morning over in my political crack den about Kerry’s health care proposals and whether his campaign is responsible for the fact that so few people can quote chapter and verse of his policy proposals.

Look, if I’m sick the day my third grade teacher covers mutiplication tables, and I don’t go and request the notes from a classmate or catch up on my own, my teacher’s not to blame for my ignorance of multiplication and neither is Archimedes. I am.

Could television news and print be covering policy better? Certainly. Could candidates communicate their positions on issues louder and more clearly? Absolutely. As media have shown less and less interest in covering policy statements, candidates have become less and less interested in reporting on them, and so on and so forth in a vicious, stupid circle.

Knowing this, if we are truly interested in a candidate’s policy positions, if we want to talk knowledgeably about Kerry’s health care plan or Bush’s tax cuts, we have to research on our own. Bitching about the candidates and bitching about the media on this subject may help them both in the long term, but our immediate problem is our own ignorance. There’s a very easy remedy for that.

Candidates for public office have a responsiblity to make their intentions clear and answer questions. And informed citizens have a responsibility to investigate and check their leaders’ statements, including seeking out more information if that’s what they require. After all, even if the candidate gave a stirring policy speech, if we weren’t there to hear it we could just assume he’d never said it. If there was a detailed and sensible report on the evening news, if we were outside with the dog at that moment we’d have missed it. So if we’re truly curious about an aspect of policy (or a candidate’s sex life, for that matter) we need to hunt it down on our own.

A few years ago I read a novel that just about changed my life. I wanted to find everything else the author had ever written. I went to my local bookstore and asked. They had a couple of things. I went to Amazon and found it all. I did searches on his name and found some nonfiction (which I liked less). What I didn’t do was sit in my house, wondering why the author didn’t do more publicity, or come on over and hand his complete works to me himself.