RICHMOND — Bujar Nishani, Angela Merkel, Bashar al-Assad, Enrique Pena Nieto, Abdullah II, Theresa May, Edgar Lungu, Francois Hollande, Kim Jong-un, Queen Elizabeth – prime ministers, presidents or heads of state, but where? Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson drew a blank last week when hard-hitting Chris Matthews asked him to name a world leader he respected.
It was an embarrassing moment for Johnson – he couldn't find one. Eventually, he proposed a former president of Mexico but couldn't name him. In retrospect, one has to wonder how many of us could name world leaders we like. The ones we worry about are easier to remember.
For those of us (I am among them) who can't connect all the dots in the first paragraph, the answers are, in order, Albania, Germany, Syria, Mexico, Jordan, United Kingdom, Zambia, France, North Korea and, for the queen, Antigua, Bahamas, United Kingdom, Australia, etc. Learning most of them would require memorization of a United Nations list.
The present presidential campaign has unearthed such a quantity of things we know or think we know. And one of the most troubling revelations has been that a plethora of voters virtually know nothing about how our government works or how to judge whether a candidate is being truthful or merely political. Gary Johnson may have taken a big one on the chin, but he has lots of company in various areas of ignorance.
Some people believe, for instance, that we have more poverty now than ever. But the latest research shows that the percentage of Americans living in poverty has gone from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012. Government safety nets have contributed to that decrease. The point is, it's down, not up. People have also latched on to the idea that homicides are way up, that the nation is more violent than ever and that crime is out of control. The fact is that homicides have dropped 13 percent during Barack Obama's administration. FBI reports also show that the country had 229,078 fewer violent crimes in 2014 than in 2008.
Many are outraged about the return of billions of dollars to Iran. They don't know, or choose not to know, that the money belonged to the Iranians and was frozen in the U.S. by government officials as potential leverage. It wasn't our money. We were just holding it. Plenty of voters have also subscribed to the idea that American companies should not be allowed to build factories overseas. A change in tax laws might slow that trend down, but the reality is that we are now, like it or not, in a global economy. Just as textiles left the Berkshires for regions with cheaper wages, so do today's CEOs cross international boundaries for gain. And did anyone notice that when the prince of Denmark visited, he mentioned that 650 U.S. subsidiaries of Danish companies employ some 60,000 Americans?
The president can do whatever he wants. Not. If high school civics could regain its place in education, more voters would know about the checks and balances that Miss McMahon drilled into our unwilling heads decades ago. Some of the separation of powers barriers have been damaged, but they're still there. Our president is neither king nor dictator, although he does have enormous singular power in some areas.
Some people are convinced that the Clinton Foundation is evil incarnate. Perhaps the Clintons should have set more rigid boundaries for themselves, but the foundation is hardly evil. For one thing, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), one of the independent entities of the Clinton Foundation, helped negotiate HIV/AIDS therapy price cuts as high as 90%, an achievement that gave more than 11.5 million people in 70 countries access to the drugs they needed.
When Donald J. Trump says 'it's smart" to pay no income taxes, people smile. Instead, they should remember that the budget is still there – whatever a billionaire doesn't pay increases everyone else's bill. Then there's ISIS. People say Hillary Clinton has endangered the United States by posting her wreck-ISIS plan on her web site. The web site does list several strategies she would endorse, many of which are already taking place. Specifics are not there. This is not a loose-lips-sink-ships plan. Donald Trump says he will keep his plan secret. That's what Richard Nixon said in 1968 about his secret plan to end the Vietnam War. But it turned out to be just politics – and non-existent.
Be careful what you believe. Remember the Norman Rockwell painting where the story by telephone grew and grew until it reached the place where it began, worthy of a growth spurt for Pinocchio's nose.
Ruth Bass was an elected town officer for years in Richmond. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.