Church of Twain: In praise of voters’ noses

Voters are taking a beating lately. There’s a media harangue bubbling up from the right that goes something like this: A chief reason the Republican Party took a beating in the November election is because voters – especially the new ones who came out en masse for Barack Obama – were naïve or stupid or both.

From the hard right, columns and essays have noted that most of those new voters lacked even the rudimentary knowledge of the political process. They didn’t understand even the simple issues. In fact, it has been proposed, maybe it’s time people took a test before they were allowed to exercise their basic right to cast a ballot.

And so we’ve also seen stories about government and civics tests. Some misguided souls even wonder aloud whether most voters are smart enough to cast ballots. The message is clear: This time, the smart people lost and the dumb people won, and something must be done about that.

It’s true that the streets are teeming with C students and below. There are scores of people who struggle to get survive day to day. They haven’t picked up a newspaper or book in years, if ever, how can they be expected to know what needs knowing about the big issues?

They can’t. But that’s true of most voters. That is to say, most Americans. They’re slow to study, slow to anger, swayed by emotional pleas, and subject to advertising pitches whether it be the latest techno gadget or sparkling new Candidate X. (For my part, I’m not smart enough to operate an iPod, so it’s hard to imagine I’m bright enough to vote for a president.)

To call the “dumb voter test” movement wrong-headed does a disservice to wrong-headedness. It not only smacks of race politics, but it reflects the arrogance that got the Republican Party into trouble in the first place.

Fact is, as slow as voters might be to learn the issues and throw the bums out, they get around to doing just that almost every time. Whether it’s sleazy Clark County Commissioners or esteemed members of the House of Representatives, voters follow their noses and eventually do the right thing. We may not know much about government, but we know a dead skunk in the middle of the road when we smell one.

They picked up the scent in New Orleans Saturday. Voters ousted indicted Democrat Congressman William Jefferson in a district that is staunchly Democratic. Jefferson is known as the fellow who kept cold cash (suspected bribe money) in his freezer.

And don’t forget that the extremely popular U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens from the extremely conservative state of Alaska was tossed on his wallet after being exposed as a payoff-sucking political weasel. Again, voters used their noses and did the right thing.

That brings us to one of my favorite lines in literature authored by the good Rev. Twain in “Following the Equator:”

“It could be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native criminal class except Congress.”

For the record, it should be noted the master penned that line before the existence of the Clark County Commission.