What you are failing to realize is that the United States has a 33% illiteracy rate.
There is a game played all over the world. In some places — Canada and the UK spring to mind — it's even achieved the status of a sport. In the ultimate manifestation of this sport, smartly dressed TV presenters are shipped over to the United States, microphones in hand. They descend upon the trailer parks, the high schools, the universities, and the lower-income city neighborhhoods, for candid, deliberately cruel interviews about global politics, foreign cultures, evolution, geography—anything that will elicit blank stares from their marks. The message is abundantly clear: Americans, as we all know, are hilariously stupid.
A poll conducted in mid-March by ABC News would seem to bear this out, revealing that roughly 56% of Americans still think that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the war began. Of course, everyone else seems to know that no WMDs have ever been found. So why have 170,000,000 or so Americans failed to absorb such a widely reported, and seemingly important, tidbit of information?
Much fuss has been made by academics, cultural pundits, and other assorted smart alecks about the legendary anti-intellectualism of American culture. They just don't trust deep thinkers, the story goes. They think that intelligence equals pretense. They want their leaders to be regular folk, not an elite cabal of learned statesmen. But there's also a flipside to this anti-intellectualism story, in which Americans are supposed to appreciate practical thinkers — inventors, engineers, people who do something tangible with their intelligence. And isn't politics, after all, really about practical, everyday issues, about getting things done? And isn't the existence, or non-existence, of WMDs a concrete issue that damn near anybody can sink their teeth into?
Whether or not Americans are any more or any less prone to anti-intellectualism is not really at the heart of the issue. Because the key problem is not a lack of intelligence, but rather a lack of reliable, accessible information. Even in the age of the Internet, most people still get their news from traditional sources — newspapers, radio, and the nightly TV news. In these largely corporate media, there is little mind paid to the vital role of reportage in civic life. And so for every well-researched, carefully considered piece of reporting, there's reams of laziness, sensationalism, manipulation, and jingoism — even when the US government is not directly paying for it. We can see as much in ABC's presentation of its own poll results, in which great care is taken to diminish their significance: "It's worth noting that, for most Americans, finding WMDs was never a prerequiste for war." The facts, it seems, are not as critical as you may have thought.
Given the choice, most Americans would naturally prefer the truth over lies, misinformation, and indirection; given adequate info, Americans are no dumber than the rest of us dummies. Take, for example, an Associated Press poll also conducted in March that found that some two-thirds of American respondents said no nation—including the U.S.A. — should be permitted to have nuclear weapons. This is at a time when the Bush administration continues to fund the development and manufacture of lower-yield "tactical" nuclear devices, weapons that are designed specifically for improved usability in actual warfare.
Clearly, those in positions of power and influence do not have a limitless potential to manipulate public opinion, regardless of how much they may want to do so. Without ignorance or ambiguity, there's rarely much room to wiggle. So a political culture that encourages mistrust toward intelligence plays right into the hands of opinion-makers. Inevitably, even being well-informed, nevermind well-educated or intellectual, begins to have a elitist edge to it. Liars love it this way. It makes their job that much easier. And in respect to liars, Americans are hardly alone. But as citizens of one of the most affluent, most militarily endowed nations on the planet, Americans do have a uniquely pressing responsibility to sniff those liars out.