08/28/2013 10:01 am ET Updated Oct 28, 2013

A State Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

For many years, liberals have pointed to "Fox News" as being a systemic problem in feeding its viewers falsehoods at best, and lies at worst, making the base of the Republican Party far too ignorant about issues facing America. Not shockingly, the charge understandably infuriates Republicans to no end. Unfortunately, polls that study the level of knowledge among Americans have generally supported the reality. (A study by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind Poll showed here that "People who watch no news know more than Fox viewers"). More unfortunately, the reality of these polls have not impacted national discussion. Ignorance continues on its merry course.

But sometimes a study comes along that's just too direct, just too blunt, just too clear to be anything other than clear-cut and galling. Too obvious to be misinterpreted, even by those who misinterpret as easily as they breathe,

Last week, Public Policy Polling released a poll here that covered a range of topics asked to Republicans in Louisiana, but the one that has leaped out is the question "Who do you think was responsible for the poor response of Hurricane Katrina? George W. Bush or Barack Obama?"

Now, just to be clear: this isn't ancient history. Hurricane Katrina occurred only eight years ago. If you're in the third grade or above, you were alive during Hurricane Katrina. This also wasn't a blip in popular culture. Hurricane Katrina is one of the five deadliest hurricanes in all of U.S. history. And most importantly, this question wasn't asked to all Americans (though one would hope all Americans would have a firm grasp on the basics of something so major). The question was asked specifically and solely to Republicans of Louisiana -- the state that was hit by Hurricane Katrina. The state was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The state that is still dealing to this day with the fallout of Hurricane Katrina. There was $81 billion worth of damage to Louisiana caused by Hurricane Katrina. And 1,833 people were killed by Hurricane Katrina. Just eight years ago.

It's the event that helped plummet George W. Bush's approval rating because of his administration's slow response, because of the photo of him flying over the devastation and simply looking out his airplane window, because of his now-infamous "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" said to then-FEMA director Michael Brown, the out-of-his-depth horse show operator, who was subsequently fired from that job.

And when Louisiana Republicans, specifically and solely Republicans, were asked who was responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina -- and only given two choices -- they responded.

George W. Bush -- 28 percent
Barack Obama -- 29 percent
Not sure -- 44 percent

It's a ghastly response. Not ghastly just because George W. Bush was so pummeled by the negative reaction at the time, a mere eight years ago. But Barack Obama wasn't to be elected president for another three years! This isn't a tough "either/or" question. It's -- sorry, no pun intended -- black and white. And these are Republican residents of Louisiana, who were there. Who lived through it. Who had their lives ripped apart

If your house burned down, don't you think you'd remember eight years later who your insurance adjuster was?

All I could think was, "I guess they call New Orleans 'The Big Easy' because some people there must think that as long as you give an answer, you aced the test."

Sorry, but life isn't that easy.

But for all the attention in the press given to how Republicans in Louisiana were split between Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama, I think there is a far bigger story in those simple facts. It's that 73 percent of Louisiana Republicans DON'T KNOW FOR SURE that Barack Obama wasn't president when Hurricane Katrina ripped about their state just a paltry eight years ago. When $81 billion of damage was caused and 1,833 of their fellow-residents were killed.

Honestly, I don't know if this gross ignorance is caused by watching "Fox News" and being given wrong information, or by watching "Fox News" and being pounded for five years how Barack Obama is evil, the devil, a terrorist, anti-American, foreign and hates white people, and therefore responsible for All Things Bad in the universe, whenever it happened, wherever it happened. Or because more Republicans in Louisiana don't read the news, or didn't graduate high school, or are in-breed, or are naturally ignorant by heredity or choice, or just responded that way to be spiteful, or are idiots, or what.

But -- as harsh as that last statement may sound if you're conservative, the statement is nowhere near as harsh as the mind-numbing, horrifying stupidity of 73 percent of Republicans in Louisiana who don't know for sure that Barack Obama wasn't president when their own state was destroyed. And further, harsh as those explanations above may sound -- I am hard-pressed to come up with some other "reasonable," bend-over-backwards explanation for such utter gross stupidity. You could bend over backwards until your head went through your legs and came back out on top again, and it would still be inexplicably inexcusably stupid. The Republicans in the poll weren't even asked to "fill in the blank." They were given the answer. It was multiple choice. And there were only two choices.

We only have to listen to that renowned philosopher, Forrest Gump, to understand this. It's very simple: "Stupid is as stupid does."

This is stupid.

And sorry, no good hiding because fake charges of "elitism." This isn't about "elitism." This is about knowing who the President of the United States is.

At the worst moment of your life.

The president who you appealed to, to help fix things. And being given just two choices. And being told the answer.

And getting it wrong.

Now, to be fair, we haven't seen poll results of how Democrats responded to this same question. So, it could be the same, or even worse. But I would like to see hands on how many people think that anything close to 73 percent of Louisiana Democrats don't know for absolute certain that George W. "Heck of a job, Brownie" Bush, the flyover king, was president during Hurricane Katrina.

But here's the bigger issue. That PPP topic is just one question. A mere snapshot. But it's symptomatic of a far bigger problem.

How can you have a fair-minded, intelligent discussion about issues of importance to America -- about anything, period -- if people aren't informed with basic, inarguable facts? This isn't about interpretation or political beliefs. This is about 2+2 actually does equal 4. And if you can't have a basic discussion on issues (or about anything), how then can you resolve issues that are hurting the nation?

All people will have their opinions. Fine and fair. But when you're formulating those opinions based on ignorance, then those opinions are worthless, nothing more than chimera floating in the mist.

"You are entitled to your own opinions, you are not entitled to your own facts," Daniel P. Moynihan has said. But that's not just a quote. That's a foundation for a productive society. Basing opinions on ignorance does not create a difference of opinions. It creates disaster. If you thought Hurricane Katrina was bad, it's nothing compared to a world of ignorance.

When opinions can be supported by facts and reality, then you have a chance to discuss, debate and reach conclusions of merit. But if it's your opinion that the moon is made of jambalaya, you will forever stay buried in the Middle Ages and suck those in your nearby sphere of influence into your personal Black Hole.

What results when you don't have facts, and don't care about facts, is that you're left relying on others telling you what to believe, and relying on faith in matters that have nothing to do with faith. Faith is wonderful for what's in your heart and how you treat others and how you live your life as a member of the human race. But we have been given a brain for a reason, and it's to be used.

A mind actually is a terrible thing to waste. So is a society.


Robert J. Elisberg's new novel The Wild Roses, a comic adventure in the spirit of The Three Musketeers but with three women, just reached the Top 50 in three Amazon Kindle bestseller categories. His other writing can be found at Elisberg Industries.