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Don’t know much about history


Much is made of the president’s tanking approval ratings. I for one need a fallback joke at times during the course of writing this column (Obama is officially less popular than a colonoscopy), so I would almost hate to see his ratings rise. If we substituted the word “popularity” for approval, would it change the meaning of the rating? I don’t think so.

When voters are polled on most of the major issues, they usually agree with the president. Various polls also seem to show that a majority of Americans like him personally. So the question is why don’t they approve of him? Could it possibly be the voters’ fault? I know that position isn’t popular in a democracy where we are supposed to worship at the altar of John Q. Public (incidentally, what the hell does the “Q” stand for anyway?). But seriously, if you agree with most of the president’s stands on the issues, but don’t approve of him anyway, doesn’t that say more about you than it does him?

We in the media continually let American voters off the hook all the time. Many of us decry the influence of corporate money on our elections, but if the electorate were well informed, wouldn’t that, to a large extent, blunt that influence? Liberals like to blame the disinformation dispensed on Fox News, but really, there is the information highway out there that is available at the click of a mouse for most folks. They’re just too damn lazy to bother about it.

I’m sure you, like me, receive e-mails, Twitter feeds and Facebook material all the time that can be disproved with just a quick check of Snopes.com. Despite how often you advise the sender that, Starbucks didn’t disrespect service veterans, that same e-mail keeps getting circulated (likely started by Dunkin’ Donuts).

I no longer find it amusing when a group of college students are interviewed and their consensus is that the Civil War began in 1941 (which means I was alive during the time of Abraham Lincoln). My biggest complaint about our youth today is not that they like Miley Cyrus, but that they don’t know anything about Ella Fitzgerald. Much was made when African-American athletes were unaware of the legacy of Jackie Robinson, but too many of our entire younger generation, no matter the skin color, believe that history began when they reached puberty.

When you understand history, you realize there is really nothing truly new under the sun. The burning issue of today about income inequality was as big an issue during the time of Theodore Roosevelt and has always been an issue in America. And every time a president has tried to address that issue, whether it be Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt or Barack Obama, the cries from entrenched interests in America have been to call the leader “radical,” “a communist” or “socialist.” Anyone who wants to go back to the days of pure free market capitalism doesn’t know anything about the early 1900s. Anyone who wonders openly about why unions are necessary (despite their sometime excesses) doesn’t know anything about the sweatshops where their grandparents likely labored.

America has also become more ignorant about science. The argument over evolution was seemingly decided decades ago. But here we are arguing about evolution all over again today. Too many people view evolution, as they do climate change, as political opinion and not science. Honest people can debate what policies we should implement to deal with climate change, but to debate whether it really exists makes you the Fredric March character in “Inherit The Wind.”

Earlier in this column, I indicted the younger generation for their self-centered lack of interest in history, but actually our problem cuts across generations. Seniors have not stopped buying newspapers, not because they access the news through the Internet, but because newspapers are just too “expensive.” Really? We ride the buses free and we can’t afford a daily newspaper? Some seniors think it is enough to read the skimpy wire reports in the Metro because it’s free (and before you write in, as worthwhile as this newspaper is, it is not meant to substitute for reading a daily newspaper).

Too many of us don’t know what we don’t know and are decidedly not humble about it. Opinions on Twitter, Facebook or other social media have been exalted to a level by the media they do not deserve. Virtually any TV newscast involves polling its audience for an opinion or replicating their audience’s comments on social media. Doesn’t have to an informed opinion, just an opinion will do. Interactive TV, ain’t it grand?

Even folks who should know better often don’t. HBO host of “Real Time,” Bill Maher, likes to slam public ignorance on the issues, but he was guilty last week of the same thing when it came to Vladimir Putin’s thinly disguised attempt to revive the old Soviet Union. “Who cares about the Crimea?,” said Maher, “sounds like a creamer. Wake me up when he gets to Poland.” Sounds like something that Neville Chamberlain would have said back before the Nazis did get around to Poland. Pretty dumb, Bill.

Yes folks, history often does repeat itself. And you want to know why? It’s because when people don’t know much about history, they don’t even know that history is repeating itself.

Contact the South Philly Review at editor@southphillyreview.com.


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