Will public ignorance of Ryan and government in general doom the GOP?
As government and society become more complex. more and more Americans throw up their hands and say, "It's too much for me, I'm going to tune it out."
The consequences of that widespread attitude is that complex issues like Medicare reform and balancing the budget fall victim to demogoguery and exaggerated political attacks rather than rational discussion and a consensus on what to do.
Ilya Somin of the blog Volokh Conspiracy contemplates what this means in the context of voter ignorance about Paul Ryan despite the congressman being in the news almost constantly for two years:
The degree of ignorance about Ryan is striking. Unlike Sarah Palin in 2008, Ryan is not a relative unknown catapulted onto the national scene for the first time by getting a VP nomination. He's been a major figure in national politics for several years now, and is the GOP's leading spokesman on budgetary and economic issues. That said, extensive public ignorance about Ryan is not surprising in light of other data showing widespread ignorance about a wide range of political leaders and policy issues. As I have pointed out many times, such ignorance about politics is actually rational behavior for most voters, because there is so little chance that any one vote will actually affect the outcome of an election.
Obviously, Ryan's name recognition is going to rapidly increase now that he is the VP nominee. On the other hand, it is much less likely that a majority of voters will come to understand his budget and entitlement reform proposals - the ideas for which he is most famous. These are much more complicated than merely learning a name and job title.
Public ignorance about federal spending is widespread. One of the challenges that Ryan faces in selling his entitlement reform proposals is that most Americans don't realize how large a proportion of federal spending is devoted to these programs, and therefore don't understand that it is impossible to get the budget crisis under control without cutting back in this area.
"A republic, ma'am, if you can keep it," Ben Franklin said to a woman who asked what kind of government we had chosen after the Constitution was written. But it isn't just ignorance of the issues that is the problem. It is that people don't want to educate themselves about what their government is doing.
In short, people don't want to perform the most basic duties of citizenship in order to keep our republic from slipping away. Somin is right about Ryan's challenge being getting people to understand entitlements. But far more basic to that, Ryan's real challenge will be to get people to slough off the blanket of apathy that currently holds them in thrall, and get them to think again.
It's a tall order and Ryan's chances of being successful are slim. But the effort will be worth it if even just a few Americans come to understand the crisis we are in.
Hat Tip: Ed Lasky