Why is the race close?

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President Obama’s re-election hopes should be growing dimmer by the hour.

His domestic policy has caused unprecedented suffering: high unemployment, gas prices that have doubled, and record numbers on food stamps and disability.

His foreign policy has emboldened our enemies. Our embassies are under attack and Iran’s genocidal leaders are closer to acquiring nuclear weapons.

And yet it is a tight race. How can that be?

Perhaps the polls are wrong. But it’s more likely that decades of media propaganda and public school indoctrination, as well as growing dependency on government, are taking their toll.

Conservative pundits complain that poll samples are skewed in favor of Democrats. When polls conducted just prior to elections are compared with the actual election results, they are frequently found to have overestimated Democrats’ strength. And there are many other potential sources of error in polls. Most polls are conducted via landline telephones despite the fact that more and more people use cellphones exclusively. Some people also believe that conservatives are less likely to participate in polls.

But even polls conducted by Fox News and the Wall Street Journal show President Obama ahead. If we give Romney a 3-point handicap, then the race is dead even.

The media influences how people perceive the issues and candidates, which is why responsible news organizations should strive to be accurate and fair. The fact that most reporters and editors are left-of-center is not necessarily a problem. But it is a problem that many reporters and editors have bought into the idea that since perfect objectivity is unattainable there is no point in trying to be objective. Some of these journalists end up becoming full-fledged propagandists.

The media’s role as propagandist is evidenced in several ways. News stories freely mix opinion with fact. Interviews are conducted not to gather information but to prove points. Investigations are conducted not to uncover news but to create it. Instead of acknowledging the need for independent media watchdogs, members of the media appoint themselves to “fact check” the candidates. For example, the fact-checking website PolitiFact.com is owned and operated by the anti-Republican Tampa Bay Times and its staff includes a number of reporters.

Many voters see through the propaganda. They use the Internet to compare what different news sources are saying. They dig deeper into stories. They seek out independent commentary. But many others trust the major news outlets. They don’t feel they have the time or skills needed to perform their own research.

Likewise, public schools help shape what children and their parents think about key issues. They indoctrinate children by emphasizing teamwork to the detriment and even exclusion of individualism. There was a time when most Americans understood that a society that encouraged individual initiative and self-reliance was both freer and more prosperous. That lesson has been largely unlearned.

In his classic essay “On Liberty,” British philosopher John Stuart Mill explained why government-run schools are a bad idea. Mill did not argue against universal education — he was for it. And he believed that government could play a positive role by ensuring that all children received an adequate education. But he warned that government-run schools would tend to mold children to serve the state, stamping out individuality in the process. Mill further observed, “All attempts by the State to bias the conclusions of its citizens on disputed subjects are evil.” Yet this happens in U.S. public schools every day.

Public schools claim that they are teaching children to think critically. That should mean giving a fair hearing to the major arguments for and against any idea. In practice, public schools encourage children to accept certain ideas and criticize others. Naturally, people and ideas that are seen as antithetical to public schools — such as free enterprise and the Republican Party — are often singled out for criticism.

There is one other factor that is helping to keep the presidential race close: the swelling ranks of people receiving food stamps and disability benefits. Surely not everyone who is receiving benefits is happy about it. However, many fear losing their benefits, or seeing their benefits reduced, should Romney win.

Keep in mind that Chicago, the city in which President Obama received his early political training, became a one-party town through patronage — giving city jobs to people who were also expected to campaign for Democratic Party candidates. By increasing the number of people who receive government benefits, President Obama may have accomplished something similar on a national scale.

The race is close not because President Obama has done a good job but because most of the media and public schools are on his side and government benefit programs tend to work in his favor. All of this raises the frightening possibility that if the U.S. continues down its current path it could become a one-party country.

Ira Brodsky is a writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.

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