Fault lies not with our leaders, but with ourselves

Archie Bleyer /

Published Dec 26, 2012 at 04:00AM

“Do the math,” the president said during the debates and on the trail. But that’s the problem. We can’t do the math. That’s how I would sum up the aftermath of the election. We have no equation to solve the fiscal cliff problem while our national debt has multiplied. We just can’t add, much less subtract, as follows.

To start with, we apparently have a clown for a vice president. During the vice presidential debate, his smirks, grins, belly laughs, body gestures, and slapstick matched the antics of Barnum & Bailey’s finest.

The second debate between the presidential contenders was quintessential circus, with predators stalking, roaring over, and taunting (“proceed, governor”) each other in a cage with a whipless lion tamer.

Now there’s the fiscal cliff outcome being negotiated behind closed doors by only two individuals, both smokers. And we are asked to trust those who can’t control their own habits?

Our political parties epitomize Ringling Brothers vs. Barnum & Bailey in expending every effort and our dollars to make fools of each other and provide us with a center-stage spectacle of Washington paralysis.

Meanwhile, our national debt climbed past $16 trillion, one-third of which accrued during just the past four years. While Washington acts as the “greatest show on earth,” our children and their children are destined to suffer the consequences. Little wonder that observers in Europe, Asia and Australia regard us as a three-ring circus of executive, legislative and judicial menageries. Because of how we have diverged from our Constitution’s principles, it is no longer a model for the world.

Don’t blame our leaders, however. Blame us. We elected them.

How then is it that we the people have chosen leaders whose stewardship has so badly compromised our future?

A (square) root answer is in our educational system. We do not teach our children how to be objective. Our students’ world ranking is 25th in math and 17th in science. We teach less of the quantitative subjects of mathematics, science, technology and engineering than almost all other socioeconomically advantaged countries.

As a result, we vote from the ground up with our feet, heart and limbic system instead of with our minds’ higher centers of reason, judgment and knowledge.

We vote with emotion instead of objectivity. We have difficulty separating fact from fiction, truth from untruth, essence from hyperbole, core from exaggeration, reality from disinformation, and substance from (as the vice president would put it) baloney.

We should not be surprised that from local precincts to higher offices we elect buffoons and our voting prowess attracts them. As the joke goes, the problem with political jokes is that they get elected ... by us. We the people have created political dysfunction and paresis.

How else do we explain that half the country thought the vice president’s debate performance was laudable? How else do we explain the anti-science that has emerged in our country? That we let absurd political ads affect choice?

The solution to this problem is long term: revamping our educational system to require proficiency in math, science and other quantitative subjects for all of our students and from the earliest grades onwards.

Our children will need to learn quantitative skills so that they can teach them to their children and reverse the vicious cycle that has been turning for a generation in our country.

Until we learn how to attract and select our best candidates for office, our sociopolitical system will be mired in mediocrity and hypocrisy, our political campaigns will continue to be negative and prey on feelings, and we will fail to elect leaders we need to turn us, the U.S., around.

But if we don’t start now, it will take just that much longer. And we are running out of time.

Until then, maybe we should follow the adage of P.J. O’Rourke: “Don’t vote. It just encourages (them).”