What was he thinking?
That was the most common reaction to former Missouri House Speaker John Diehl’s recent telephonic dalliance with an intern. And the only possible answer is he wasn’t thinking.
Diehl’s brain freeze was not an anomaly, though. Sadly, there’s evidence contemporary politics is plagued by a reluctance to think.
To this day, a sizable contingent of Republicans and conservatives blame “low-information voters” for the election of President Barack Obama. The theory, popularized by radio talker Rush Limbaugh, is that some people don’t know enough to cast the right votes.
“Low-information voters are clearly people that don’t have all the information available,” Limbaugh once said. “Most of them did vote for Obama.”
Interestingly, critics of Gov. Sam Brownback make the same argument about his election in Kansas. When asked why voters chose Brownback in 2014, Democrats — and some Republicans — usually say that the state’s electorate wasn’t “fully informed.”
While it’s highly unlikely all voters are as hazy as partisans suggest, it’s true voters seem less familiar with their government than at any time in recent memory.
Why would that be?
Reporters share some of the blame. Perhaps we’re not explaining issues as clearly as we should, and the declining influence of so-called mainstream media outlets is well-known and problematic.
But surely the biggest share of the responsibility for a less-focused electorate falls to the nation’s politicians. On issue after issue, Republicans and Democrats appear far more interested in misleading sloganeering than in critical thinking about common concerns.
The problem seems most acute in Washington. Republicans there recently claimed they passed a balanced federal budget, an assertion that assaults the truth. Democrats are busy forcing votes on bills that can’t possibly pass but may look good on a bumper sticker.
It happens at the state level, too. The battle over expanding Medicaid in Kansas and Missouri suggests an emotional disgust with Obamacare, not a reasoned disagreement over how to provide health care for the working poor.
Government has become a talk show, and voters make their choices accordingly.
Kansas is in the thick of a complicated discussion about raising taxes to cover a $400 million deficit. It will take hard work and thoughtful compromise to find an answer.
This is going to take awhile.