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Letter from the Editor

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In observance of Presidents' Day earlier this week, The Jimmy Kimmel Show conducted "man on the street" interviews with Americans and asked the following question: "What is your response to the news that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt died today?"

FDR — who was born in 1882 (a fact mentioned to most of those interviewed) — died in office in 1945. For the math-challenged, that's nearly 70 years ago. Judging from the responses that Kimmel's interviewer got, a lot of Americans didn't get the news. Or an education.

A typical response was: "He was a good man, sorry to hear of his passing."

But the absurdity didn't stop there. Prompted by the interviewer's questions, one woman agreed that Roosevelt's greatest quote was: "Everybody get the alligator first, America second." Another said that she enjoyed following FDR on Twitter and had even retweeted him a few times. Another person agreed that Roosevelt's greatest accomplishment was the Louisiana Purchase. Yikes.

Also released this week was a entirely serious (and depressing) survey conducted by the National Science Foundation that revealed only 74 percent of Americans know that the Earth revolves around the sun. Other startling findings: Just 48 percent of Americans believe that "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals;" 42 percent of Americans believe that astrology is scientific; and about 35 percent of Americans think we need to rely less on science and more on "religion and feelings."

And we wonder how the Tennessee General Assembly gets away with proposing (and passing) one ignorance-based bill after another? A great many Americans — and Tennesseans — are startlingly ill-informed and under-educated, and pandering to their ignorance gets a lot of Tennessee politicians elected to office and keeps them there. Why bother with creating legislation that will create jobs and better schools when they can distract so much of the populace by feeding their fears about federal gun control and medical marijuana, and convincing fundamentalist Christians that they are being "discriminated" against by activist gays?

And indeed, why should our legislative overlords rock that lucrative boat? The patronage money pours in from corporate lobbyists, PACs, the NRA, and ALEC, all of whom helpfully write the bills for them. The opposition party has been reduced to onlooker status. There is no longer a balance of power in Nashville, and that's never good. And until that situation changes, we are doomed to the kind of ideology-driven laws that remove cities' and counties' rights to determine things as basic as local nondiscriminatory hiring practices, minimum wage, and whether guns are allowed in city parks.

The ignorant — and the cynical politicians who pander to them — have the power, and they will continue to run roughshod over those who oppose them, until enough of us wise up.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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