"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Words forgettable, words wise

rainey BARRETT


Idaho is well hidden from the national media spotlight when it comes to quotable prominent voices making prominent quotable quotes. But it’s happened twice in recent days. One worth nothing. The other not so much.

The less worthy words came from Speaker Boehner as he visited Boise to raise more Republican money for still more Idaho Republicans. People who should know better paid big bucks to hear Boehner promise a “whale of a fight” over the debt ceiling struggle just over our political horizon.

Our country is torn apart by out-of-control partisan politics, government intransigence to deal with any meaningful issue in any meaningful way, sequestration that’s deeply affecting millions of Americans, financial big guys raping investors and customers alike, our military sacrificing young people in Afghanistan for no discernable purpose and a president tip-toeing around on getting us into another civil war.

But Boehner chose to ignore all that and put Idaho in the media spotlight with yet one more GOP threat to close up government when the bills come due for all the federal dollars already spent. That’s what the national debt ceiling is, you know. Paying for what you’ve already bought – not what you might buy in the future. But the GOP has been making a useless fight over this debt ceiling business as if it were some kind of Holy Grail. It ain’t.

Rome burns. Emperor Boehner grabs his fiddle. And he plays still more uselessly partisan tunes for the national media to broadcast. All with Idaho’s name attached. Well, maybe better than skinhead stories. Maybe.

The far more noteworthy appearance by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor got some national play. Though not as much as the Boehner babble. She was in Boise – not to make money for perpetually dollar-starved politicians – but to honor and promote efforts on behalf of women in the marketplace. Any marketplace. Seeking any goal.

She spoke to her subject. And she did it well. But, along the way, she detoured into some comments that got little note – except on MSNBC. What she said in Boise should be heard by millions more of us.

Here’s the sum of Justice O’Connor’s remarks. About two-thirds of us can’t name one Supreme Court justice – only about a third can name the three branches of government – four out of five high school seniors can’t explain how citizen involvement benefits a democracy – less than a third of eighth graders can state the purpose of the Declaration of Independence though that purpose is right in front of them in the title of the document.

And worse. O’Connor said research has shown young people getting out of college have just about the same level of civics ignorance as when they went in. Even those leaving grad school. They go in without it – spend thousands of dollars – even tens of thousands – for more education and come out with no more understanding of how our system of government operates.

She had more examples but you get the idea.

Rather than just complaining about a problem – as in the Boehner example – O’Connor’s has been doing something. She and a few others formed icivics.org. – an online site for students. And teachers – many of whom are just as ignorant of government history as the kids in their classrooms. It’s bright and colorful. It’s full of history and games. It’s fun. And it’s a great, easy way to learn about government. For kids. And the rest of us.

Boehner’s all-too-familiar remarks got a lot of national media play. O’Connor’s learned criticism and tragic facts – very little.

As if putting an exclamation point on O’Connor’s quotes – a national polling outfit this week found nearly three times as many Americans could discuss the unseemly Miley Cyrus TV gyrations as knew anything even remotely connected about Syria and the use of chemical weapons. Three times as many!

There are too many Americans who say they’re disgusted with politics – don’t like politicians – think they’re all a “bunch of crooks” – never watch or read political news – don’t have time for politics – don’t understand it – have other, more important things to do. Road Apples!!!

The intellectually-challenged Congress we have is the result of too many people not participating – or not participating knowledgeably in our system of governance. It’s the result of too many people elected to office with little to no understanding of how to do the jobs they were elected to do.

To those described above – the unknowing and the uncaring – last week’s real news out of Idaho represented by these two national figures is this: O’Connor is the kind of intelligent, contributing American who will leave a positive impact on history when you pay attention to our national political affairs. John Boehner is what you get when you don’t. O’Connor will have a place in history Boehner can only dream about.

If you feel a little short on American government – maybe need a little brush up – or just want to add to your own education – the site is icivics.org.

You might just learn a thing of two.

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