November 26, 2002
Bush knowledge versus Gore knowledge

Joanne Jacobs links to one of those reports that says that Americans are, in her phrase, "Global Morons".

- Thirty-four percent of the young Americans knew that the island used on last season's "Survivor'' show was located in the South Pacific, but only 30 percent could locate the state of New Jersey on a map. The "Survivor'' show's location was the Marquesas Islands in the eastern South Pacific.

- When asked to find 10 specific states on a map of the United States, only California and Texas could be located by a large majority of those surveyed. Both states were correctly located by 89 percent of the participants. Only 51 percent could find New York, the nation's third most populous state.

- On a world map, Americans could find on average only seven of 16 countries in the quiz. Only 89 percent of the Americans surveyed could find their own country on the map.

- In the world map test, Swedes could find an average of 13 of the 16 countries. Germans and Italians were next, with an average of 12 each.

- Only 71 percent of the surveyed Americans could locate on the map the Pacific Ocean, the world's largest body of water. Worldwide, three in 10 of those surveyed could not correctly locate the Pacific Ocean.

- Although 81 percent of the surveyed Americans knew that the Middle East is the Earth's largest oil exporter, only 24 percent could find Saudi Arabia on the map.

But now hang on. Is this not exactly the kind of ignorance that successive Republican Presidents are constantly criticised for? (I'm thinking especially of Reagan and Bush Jnr.) And do not the exact kind of people who are now complaining about how, e.g., geography teaching in the USA has gone down the public toilet, to the point where X percent of Americans don't know where the Pacific Ocean is, then defend their Republican Presidents by pointing out that there's more to knowing your way around in the world than knowing where things are on maps? Are they not right? I think they are. I think that President Bush is at least as savvy in the ways of the world as any Euro-statesman just now.

And that US Army. It usually seems to arrive in the right places, when it matters.

Europeans have long complained about how "ignorant" the inhabitants of the USA are, ignorant that is to say, of such facts as the location of the Pacific Ocean, and indeed they are. But which countries have done better in recent decades, the European ones, or the USA? The top scoring countries in this international survey of geographical knowledge or lack of it were, see above: Sweden, Germany and Italy. Oh, I'm impressed. They've all been doing far better than the USA, haven't they?

If Bush Jnr. and Al Gore had had a geography test face-off during their fiercely close election battle, it's my clear understanding that Gore would have won, just as it's my clear understanding that a Gore post 9/11 foreign policy would probably have been a disaster, with President Gore knowing beforehand exactly where all the countries were on the map that he would never have learned how to handle properly.

Or is Bush really hyper-educated, and just pretending to be ignorant in order to suck up to all those genuinely ignorant Americans out there? I believe there was once a sketch on one of those Friday Night or Saturday Night or whenever Live comedy shows, in which a publicly bumbling aw-shucks President Reagan was shown in private as sporting a machine-gun ultra-high-IQ intellect with which he subjected even his most famously clever assistants to relentless private humiliations, but which was immediately switched off again as soon as he emerged back into the public arena.

I'm not saying that I'm in favour of ignorance, exactly. I'm just saying that, as Americans often say, book learnin' ain't ev'r'thin'.

You probably think I'm saying this just to be arkward. Well, yes, pretty much.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:30 PM
Category: Politics