As I have increased my participation in the political process over the last six years, the realization of just how little our citizenry knows or even cares about our system of government is probably the most frustrating, and at times, the most discouraging aspect of politics.
My discouragement has little to do with the lack of involvement in party politics but rather in the basic knowledge and understanding of the system of checks and balances at the federal level envisioned by our Founders that has enabled our form of government to survive far longer than most.
After Alabama State Senator Arthur Orr announced his intent to introduce a bill requiring Alabama high school students to pass the same civics test administered to immigrants desiring U.S. citizenship, a current high school student from Spain Park High School in Hoover, AL shared his thoughts on the proposed bill with Alabama’s ABC 33/40 in a manner that frankly made me want to cry.
“I don't actively follow politics. This isn't a career I want to go into. So for me to know all of this stuff, I don't really see a point in knowing it all unless I'm actively interested in politics.”*
In a nutshell, this student identifies why we’ve already lost so much of our freedom and liberties, and indicates just how far we’ve fallen as a nation.
Sadly, this young student likely won’t ever know what we’ve lost.
Given this young man’s age, I can almost understand his mindset because he is the product of an education system that has “taught to the test” for so long that the idea of learning anything not deemed necessary for annual assessments tied to federal funding leaves scant time for much of the civics studies of the past.
However, based on the various comments I read daily on social media sites, there are plenty of older Americans who are also woefully deficient in the course of civics and desperately need a refresher course.
Without knowledge and comprehension of the role of our three branches of government (legislative, judicial, and executive) as well as the constitutional limitations placed upon each branch, citizens place themselves in the dangerous position of ceding control to unprincipled politicians and the powerful federal agencies they create.
As a nation, are we being willfully ignorant of what is happening to our liberty? Doesn’t our choice to remain uninformed convict us of facilitating the political elites who crave power at our expense? Is ignorance and apathy the “enemy within” that will destroy American exceptionalism?
The privilege of citizenship requires personal responsibility. I fear that we have allowed government to expand to the point where that responsibility and corresponding liberty is a complete unknown to the vast majority of Americans. Why else would we continue to look to government and more legislation to solve each and every problem that arises rather than believe in the resourcefulness of the free markets without the taint of government intervention and cronyism? We too frequently and readily look to government to “save us” from failure, but losing the freedom to fail can carry the consequence of losing the freedom to succeed.
If we only listen to the mainstream media and the big government operatives from each political party, it is relatively easy to assume that we need more government intervention to protect us in our daily lives. An expanded government sector is certainly an economic boom for Washington as well as in state capitals across our nation, and the political consulting class as well as K Street insiders are the largest profiteers.
Not everyone pursues a “career” in politics – thankfully – but as citizens, other career paths do not absolve us of our responsibility to fully understand the function of government and the task of citizens in its oversight. If we’re not willing to participate in the process, even with a minimal study of civics, perhaps we never deserved the liberty that we’ve already lost.
Marcia Chambliss is the Alabama State Coordinator of Smart Girl Politics, a 501(c) (3) non-profit dedicated to the education and training of activists and candidates, and Smart Girl Politics Action, http://sgpaction.com/, a 501(c) (4) which focuses on conservative issues. She can be reached at: Marcia@sgpaction.com. Her views do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Smart Girl Politics Action.