Civic leaders for two centuries have extolled the critical value of an informed citizenry. Its importance cannot be overstated. Yet today, two centuries later, American citizens are less knowledgeable than ever regarding how government and politics really function. The fault can be spread widely. In one respect, the public has been played by the media, by their representatives, by interest groups, and the parties. They have been overfed worthless information but starved of knowledge. The research is overwhelming.
An Annenberg survey found that 47 percent can’t name the three branches of government and a third cannot name one. Nearly 40 percent said the Constitution gives the power to declare war to the President. It doesn’t. Ten percent said the Constitution gives Congress the authority to outlaw atheism. It doesn’t. In another survey, it was discovered that nearly 50 percent of Americans did not know the free exercise of religion was protected under the First Amendment. Many can’t distinguish between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Many citizens don’t know who their congressman and senators are, let alone how to access them and have more influence over what they say and do. They don’t know the difference between a resolution and a bill or what committees do or how the Constitution both empowers and limits Congress. They don’t know what is considered the First Branch of Government (I saw a survey of college students years ago in which 10 percent of them believed Judge Judy was on the Supreme Court). So renewal begins with education of the citizenry. Congress should be used as a power tool for those who want to influence government. But a power tool isn’t helpful unless you know how to use it.