Alarming apathy

I don’t know what’s more disappointing and shocking — the scandals involving the White House and the impact of the scandals on our democratic republic or the lack of awareness and interest among Americans.

You would think that even just one of the three controversies connected to the current administration would be enough not only to send chills down the spine of the average law-abiding citizen, but also to turn even the most disinterested among us into a little bit of an activist willing to send an email to their senator or congressional representative, or perhaps submit a letter or op-ed piece in their local paper. But according to a new Pew Research Center report, the scandals involving the IRS, the State Department and the Justice Department are barely a blip on our personal radar screens.

These days it’s hard for me to watch any news program or read any article without getting my Italian up. While it is not exactly breaking news that we are living in a culture that rejects and regularly attacks traditional family values, it is stunning that our federal government is more out of control than any of us may have imagined. Whether it is the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the Justice Department treating reporters like alleged criminals, or the long list of questions regarding what really happened in Benghazi, Libya, last fall, it’s pretty obvious that we have a problem, and a big one indeed.

According to the survey released late last month, if you agree with my assessment we are part of some weird fringe minority group. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press questioned more than 1,000 adults ages 18 or older about the Benghazi investigation, the IRS targeting conservative groups and the DOJ subpoenaing of reporters’ phone records. Even among those whom you think might also be experiencing a rise in blood pressure over the scandals, the numbers are shockingly low. Only 37 percent of Republicans are paying very close attention to the IRS story. About 21 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of Independents said they had a high level of interest in the IRS developments.

I am no polling expert, but I expected the numbers to be higher, especially among Republicans. And the topic of reporters’ First Amendment rights apparently isn’t all that much of an attention grabber, with only 16 percent of those surveyed saying they are closely following the story concerning the Justice Department’s secret seizure of Associated Press phone records. These are just two of the very depressing statistics from the survey. The Pew report goes on to say the response level does fall among party lines but apparently the low level of concern is nothing new. Pew also reports previous scandals such as the “Pardon-Gate” connected with Bill Clinton’s second term or the Lewis “Scooter” Libby case during the Bush administration received similarly low levels of attention.

Is it just that we have become so used to corruption and scandal over the past few decades? Or have we been so desensitized and dumbed-down by the onslaught of messages in our culture — messages that affirm and promote sin and a total lack of personal responsibility? Could it be a big combination and heavy dose of both?

Whatever the cause, my fear is that we are going to wake up one morning and all of our freedoms — including freedom of the press, freedom to support and join different groups without fear of government repercussions — will be things of the past. As long as we have satellite TV and the Internet in our jail cells, I wonder if anyone will care or notice. 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.

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