This column is a lightly-modified version of one that first appeared back in March of 2006. The Bush administration was the focus of that earlier column. It’s only fair to apply the same standards now to the Obama years. Readers are encouraged to take the quiz themselves. I’d be delighted to know your scores, if you would like to self-report. And I’d welcome your suggestions for additional questions that might be used in a third version of the quiz.
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I was sitting in the coffee shop, working on my second cup of starter fluid, when Rog stormed in, red-faced, with steam pouring out of his ears.
“Have you seen this?” he demanded, throwing some sheets of paper down on the table.
“Have a seat, Rog,” I said. “Ask Angie for a couple of ice cubes to cool you down.”
“This is no laughing matter, Ace,” he fumed. “Look at this thing. It’s a disgrace!”
“What is it, Rog?” I asked.
“It’s a quiz from my boy’s high school civics class,” he said. “The thing is nothing more than a piece of anti-American propaganda! Every question on there is a deliberate slap at the administration and Congress! It’s brainwashing, is what it is! It’s a blatant attempt to portray the political leadership of this country as undemocratic, and I won’t stand for it!”
“My gosh, Rog,” I said. “Let me have a look at the thing. Is it really that bad?”
“You’re darned tootin’ it is,” he bellowed. “Take a look for yourself.”
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QUIZ # 2: The Differences Between Democratic and Totalitarian Governments
With the opening chapter of our textbook, we discussed the differences between democratic governments and totalitarian governments. The quiz below contains ten pairs of statements. Write “democratic” in the blank space for the statement in each pair which accurately describes a democratic government, and “totalitarian” in the blank space for the statement in each pair which accurately describes a totalitarian government.
1.A. Under a _____________________ government, the free flow of information is essential so people can make informed decisions. Every effort is made to see that the public receives the most complete and most accurate information possible.
1. B. Under a ____________________ government, numerous important decisions are made in secret, funding for programs is concealed, and vital information is hidden from the public. The government propagandizes its own citizenry.
2.A. Under a _____________________ government, whistleblowers are valued for their important role in exposing inefficient, corrupt, illegal, or undemocratic activities. They are protected against retaliation from those whom they have exposed, and are honored for playing a vital role in helping keep government honest and open.
2.B. Under a _____________________ government, whistleblowers are feared, despised, persecuted, and prosecuted by those whom they have exposed. The full power of the government is unleashed on them so that the example of their punishment will prevent others from disclosing the failures and crimes of those in power.
3.A. Under a _____________________ government, the right to know the charges against you, to be represented by effective counsel, to be given your day in court in a timely manner, and to have a fair trial before a jury of your peers are all guaranteed to every person accused of a crime.
3.B. Under a _____________________ government, certain prisoners can be held indefinitely, imprisoned without being charged with a crime, denied the opportunity to counsel, and denied a chance to defend themselves in an open court.
4.A. Under a _____________________ government, prisoners are recognized as human beings, worthy of basic levels of respect and dignity. They are treated humanely and granted fundamental rights, regardless of their crimes.
4.B. Under a _____________________ government, certain prisoners are demeaned and degraded. They are treated with contempt, tortured, and brutalized.
5.A. Under a _____________________ government, people’s private reading, writing, correspondence, e-mails, computer searches, and phone conversations are their own affair, protected from governmental intrusion except in limited, specified, carefully supervised circumstances.
5.B. Under a _____________________ government, people’s private reading, writing, correspondence, e-mails, computer searches, and phone conversations are subject to secret government scrutiny, with little or no control over whose privacy is invaded, or why, or when.
6.A. Under a _____________________ government, the right of citizens to assemble, to protest peacefully, and to demand change is valued and protected.
6.B. Under a _____________________ government, peaceful protest is hindered and suppressed. Legal obstacles are created to frustrate citizens’ protests. They are harassed, intimidated, even arrested when they attempt to make their contrary views known. Federal officials conspire with corporate interests and local authorities to infiltrate peaceful organizations and suppress dissent.
7.A. Under a _____________________ government, the leader is subject to the rule of law and constrained by the checks and balances of the legislature and judiciary.
7.B. Under a _____________________ government, the leader ignores or dismisses inconvenient laws, and is unchecked by the legislature and judiciary.
8.A. Under a _____________________ government, every effort is made to extend the right to vote, to remove obstacles to voting, and to ensure that votes are counted accurately.
8.B. Under a _____________________ government, the right to vote is curtailed, obstacles are deliberately created to deny certain classes of citizens the right to vote, unverifiable electronic voting machines may be used to facilitate voting fraud, and voting irregularities may be ignored.
9.A. Under a _____________________ government, extrajudicial punishment of individuals is explicitly forbidden.
9.B. Under a _____________________ government, high government officials may target individuals for kidnapping, torture, and murder, using “national security” as an excuse to clothe operations in secrecy and avoid all accountability.
10.A. Under a _____________________ government, decisions on taxation and expenditures are made with the intent of promoting the common good, protecting the weakest citizens, increasing access to opportunity, and rewarding effort and merit rather than birth.
10.B. Under a _____________________ government, decisions on taxation and expenditures are made with the intent of promoting the interests of the powerful, protecting their lives of privilege, increasing their share of the nation’s wealth, and passing their wealth and privilege on to their heirs.
FOR EXTRA CREDIT: Given your answers above, is the country in which you are now living best characterized as democratic or totalitarian? Support your opinion with reference to current events which illustrate specific statements listed in the quiz.
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“I don’t know, Rog,” I said. “Those look like pretty standard distinctions to me. And I don’t see any references to particular politicians or parties. Sounds as if the teacher is just trying to get kids to think a little. Why do you see it as an attack on Mr. Obama and his administration?”
“Because all the ones that are supposed to be identified as ‘totalitarian’ are obvious references to things the president and his people have done to keep us secure, you numbskull!”
“So what are you saying, Rog? That loyalty to a political party is more important than its policies? That totalitarian governments are preferable to democracies? That you’d rather be safe than free? That you’d rather just turn a blind eye toward intolerable behavior? I’m having a hard time following you here.”
“Listen, Ace. The president is just doing his job. And I’m going to see that this loose cannon does his. Or loses it.”
“You could just suggest he switch the labels that go with the descriptions in each pair,” I suggested. “Maybe that would give you something you’d be more comfortable with. How did your boy do on the test, by the way?”
His face turned grim. “That’s what really cheeses me off,” he said. “He aced it.”
Scoring note: All “A” blanks should be “democratic” and all “B: blanks should be “totalitarian.” Give yourself 5 points for each blank filled in correctly.
© Tony Russell, 2013