If a person gets involved in politics, does that mean they are automatically experts in U.S. history and civics?
Not by a long shot.
Scholars and pundits have been complaining for years about the historical literacy of average U.S. students and voters, but recent history shows that people who lead – and seek to lead – the country often don’t fare much better.
Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin hinted in 2011 that Paul Revere made his midnight ride “to warn the British.”
When asked if she knew who the revered Revere was, she famously gaffed: "He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed." (He actually rode to warn minutemen that the British were coming so they could arm themselves and prepare).
President Obama, while on the stump in 2008, claimed he had visited “57 states.” (There are only 50.)
Vice President Joe Biden claimed that Franklin D. Roosevelt appeared on TV in 1929 to discuss the stock market. (FDR hadn’t been elected yet, and TV was still in the experimental stage).
And in the recent election cycle, former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, a U.S. House member from Minnesota, said the American Revolution began in Concord, N.H. (it actually started with the battle of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts). Bachmann made several other gaffes, but the Revolutionary flub stood out the most in media reports.
Granted, many politicians at the local, state and national level are forced to answer questions with little or no time to prepare, and it’s normal for people to become tongue-tied and have, well, a brain fart when trying to speak on the fly.
But still, aren’t there some things that ought to be general knowledge not just for us but for the people whose images crowd our mailboxes, TV and computer screens during an election year?
With Tuesday’s election quickly upon us, Surge staff thought it would be fun to see how our two candidates for the new Seventh Congressional District did when asked some basic questions that might be asked of any student in an American history or civics class. How would they fare if confronted, one-on-one, without any prior knowledge of what we were going to ask? Without Googling, with no lifelines, and no cheat sheets.
A political pop quiz, we figured, might be a good, fun way to get to know the two candidates – Republican Tom Rice and Democrat Gloria Bromell Tinubu. Our readers could see if their knowledge matched up with the candidates’, and maybe learn something about their personality and sense of humor along the way.
In the end, we realize this exercise in pop quizzery is un-scientific, and really means nothing in the grand scheme of things, and it also doesn’t prove or disprove either candidate’s ability to govern on the Federal level.
We prepared a 10-question quiz dealing with some basics of South Carolina and U.S. history, politics, government and current events. Some of the questions came directly from sample test questions given to people applying to become a U.S. citizen; others are standard on South Carolina civics and history exams.
The goal was just to see how our candidates for the Seventh District did. The results, as you will see, were interesting.
Gloria’s got game.
Gloria Bromell Tinubu’s staff members were ready and willing to help us with our quirky little idea, even though the candidate was busy traveling from one corner of the new district - which covers all of Horry and Georgetown counties and stretches all the way up to Chesterfield and Marlboro counties - to the other in the last three weeks before the campaign. To her credit, Tinubu’s staff was easy to approach, quick to respond to phone calls and e-mails, and seems to have a sense of humor, as does the candidate.
We caught up with her during one of her down times at her campaign office, and she willingly took the quiz. She was dealing with a hectic schedule, having to prepare for and participate in two debates with her opponent, but Tinubu, a teaching associate in the College of Business Administration at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, was good-natured and approached the quiz with an open mind, even though she originally had been told it would be only about South Carolina and not include U.S. history as well. We also talked about the challenge of answering questions like this off the cuff.
It didn’t matter. It turned out she knew her U.S. history just fine.
Her results? Very good. She only missed two of the 10 questions.
Here are the questions and her answers:
A. Nine. Correct.
A. Speaker of the House. Correct.
A. House of Representatives and the Senate. Correct.
A. 46. Correct.
A. Ken Ard. Wrong. (The office is held by Glenn McConnell, who took it after Ard stepped down over an ethics breach.)
A. First Amendment. Correct.
A. Executive, legislative and judicial. Correct.
A. Tinubu thought there might have been three, and thought Thomas Calhoun was one of them. Wrong. There were actually four signers: Thomas Heyward, Jr.; Arthur Middleton, Thomas Lynch, Jr.; Edward Rutledge.
Not unusual, because everybody else in the random sampling of Grand Strand residents we administered the quiz to got this answer wrong too.
Tom Rice? No Dice.
Quiz shows, apparently, are not Tom Rice’s cup of tea.
Your Surge correspondent tried repeatedly to set up a time for him to take our little Q&A, but nothing worked.
Repeated calls and e-mails to his campaign manager and headquarters went nowhere. We described the premise in detail, tried to explain why we wanted to do something a little different and how it would appeal to younger readers, an important part of the voting bloc who might not be interested in reading more traditional political fare.
We enlisted one of his grassroots community campaign workers to help and plead our case at a staff meeting, but no go. The response was both that Rice was too busy with less than 20 days left before the campaign (even though we asked for only about 10 minutes of his time) and also, at one point, that consultants from Columbia didn’t think the quiz was that great an idea.
Calls to Rice’s personal cell phone also didn’t work. Finally, there was a last ditch effort to speak to Rice in person after the Oct. 23 debate with Tinubu at CCU. During the very brief “media time” set aside after the debate, Rice laughed and indicated he wouldn’t be interested in taking the quiz, but he did offer a brief opinion about what he considered the most important issue in the campaign: “Jobs.”
Snap, Crackle and Pop! Quiz
With candidate Rice declining to take part in our political pop quiz, we were sort of left in the lurch. We couldn’t have a one-sided quiz. Who to turn to represent the other side? Then we remembered a trio of well-known characters who have come to play an important role in Rice’s campaign. Anybody notice what he’s been handing out at campaign headquarters and some appearances? Rice Krispies Treats. That delicious marshmallow snack made with one of our most iconic cereals. Since they were taking such an important role in the campaign for the Seventh, we called on the three guys who represent all things Rice Krispies: Snap, Crackle and Pop, to take the quiz instead of Rice. It’s not quite the same thing and we would have loved to have the input from Rice himself, but in this election cycle you can’t always get what you want. Clint Eastwood had to rant at an empty chair instead of President Obama at the Republican National Convention, so we called on these three to take the quiz. Despite their youthful appearances, this trio is actually more than 60-years-old. “They’ve had a few makeovers in their time though,” according to their bio posted on Kellogg’s Web site. “Perhaps that’s how they keep their youthful glow.” According to promotional materials, “Snap is the oldest and a problem solver, Crackle is an unsure “middle child” and Pop is a mischievous youngster.”
They took turns taking our 10-question challenge.
Q. Bonus question: How many people from South Carolina signed the Declaration of Independence and who were they?
Sorry. No time left. But we did appreciate Snap and Crackle for their answers. Don’t worry, Pop, we understand your anger about the bike rallies, but we really hope you and the old lady come back some day. The rallies still go on. They’ve just moved south to Murrells Inlet. You and Dig ‘Em might enjoy doing a few burn-outs at Suck, Bang Blow come next May.