Is democracy broken?:
Moment of Truthiness, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: We all know how democracy is supposed to work. Politicians are supposed to campaign on the issues, and an informed public is supposed to cast its votes based on those issues, with some allowance for the politicians’ perceived character and competence.
We also all know that the reality falls far short of the ideal. Voters are often misinformed, and politicians aren’t reliably truthful. Still, we like to imagine that voters generally get it right in the end, and that politicians are eventually held accountable for what they do.
But ... has our political system been so degraded by misinformation and disinformation that it can no longer function?
Well, consider the case of the budget deficit... Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google, offered to run a Google Consumer Survey ... on ... whether the deficit has gone up or down since January 2010. ... A majority of those who replied said the deficit has gone up... Only 12 percent answered correctly that it has gone down a lot.
Am I saying that voters are stupid? Not at all. People have lives, jobs, children to raise..., they rely on what they hear from authority figures. The problem is that much of what they hear is misleading if not outright false.
The outright falsehoods, you won’t be surprised to learn, tend to be politically motivated.... After all, Republicans made a lot of political hay over a supposedly runaway deficit early in the Obama administration, and they have maintained the same rhetoric even as the deficit has plunged. ... In Stephen Colbert’s famous formulation, claims about runaway deficits may not be true, but they have truthiness, and that’s all that matters.
Still, aren’t there umpires for this sort of thing — trusted, nonpartisan authorities who can and will call out purveyors of falsehood? Once upon a time, I think, there were. But these days the partisan divide runs very deep, and even those who try to play umpire seem afraid to call out falsehood. ...
Put it all together, and it’s a discouraging picture. We have an ill-informed or misinformed electorate, politicians who gleefully add to the misinformation and watchdogs who are afraid to bark. ...
So what should we be doing? Keep pounding away at the truth, I guess, and hope it breaks through. But it’s hard not to wonder how this system is supposed to work.