So much for the democratic process. Political philosophers like to think that people are basically educated about the things that are important to them, while filtering out all the stuff that doesn't matter. Voters are theoretically "rationally ignorant" to white noise.

Rational ignorance is quite the lofty ideal, it turns out. When faced with a barricade of words, voters don't cherry pick the important ones -- we just hear what's weird.

This week's New York Magazine ran a word cloud of Obama's actual State of the Union speech alongside the word cloud from what viewers remembered hearing. Text size corresponds to the number of times the word was spoken.

Here's the cloud for Obama's actual speech:


NPR asked listeners what words they remembered hearing the president say. You'd think in a healthy democracy we'd hear the things that are important to us, like business or responsibility or rail. 

But we have never relied on the democratic process -- America is a Constitutional Republic. And what word did Americans hear?


To quote NY Mag's conclusion:

This is why we can't have nice things.