It took me a while to find it, but I thought you’d enjoy this little nugget from October 5, 2004, dug out of the Mahablog Archives.
Why We’re Screwed
Bush’s years as a good-time Charlie and heavy drinker may actually help him draw a contrast to Kerry. Bush led a more “normal” life as a young man, spending his college and postgraduation years partying, chasing women, and raising hell, while Kerry sought academic excellence, positioning himself to be a leader of his generation. Kerry’s devotion to high-minded pursuits, first through his combat service in Vietnam and then as an opponent of the war, may have impressed some, but it now is often portrayed by adversaries as opportunistic and self-important. Those accusations are rarely made against Bush, who showed little interest in leadership as a younger man. [U.S. News and World Report]
We’ve come a way from George Washington and the cherry tree, huh?
The original U.S. News and World Report article, by Kenneth T. Walsh and Dan Gilgoff , appeared in the October 3, 2004 issue. It serves as a nice time capsule to show us how the “elite” versus “regular guy” narrative played out four years ago. The paragraph quoted above still makes my jaw drop.
Smart is elitist, and elitism is, you know, bad. So we can’t elect smart people, and instead elect stupid people, because they connect with us, and they’re more fun to have a beer with, even when (they say) they’ve stopped drinking. Then we wonder why the government doesn’t work. Stupid? Do tell.
I mean, where else in the world is someone accused of academic excellence and high-minded pursuits?
Occasionally we hear that there’s an “anti-education” culture among African-American males that causes them to under-achieve. I will leave it to others to decide how true or false that is. It just seems to me that this phenomenon is not limited to African-American males. The whole country is infested with it. It’s just plain not cool to be smart.
Case in point: Saturday’s event at the Rev. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. Discussing this not-debate, Sally Quinn writes that she wishes she could live in John McCain’s world:
I want to live in a world where Gen. David Petraeus and Meg Whitman, former chief executive of eBay, are the wisest people I know, where offshore drilling will help ease our energy crisis, where a guy stays in a Vietnamese prison camp even when told he could get out, and has great stories to tell. I want to live in a world where I was absolutely certain that life begins at conception, where a man is a maverick and stands up against his Senate colleagues when he disagrees with them, where the only thing to do with evil is defeat it, where a guy will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell to capture him.
I want to believe that our biggest enemy is radical Islamist terrorists. I want to be part of a world that doesn’t have to raise taxes; where America is a beacon, a shining city on a hill; where our values are simply Judeo-Christian values; and where a man always puts his country first. I want to be one of “my friends.”
John McCain’s world doesn’t appeal to me all that much, but let’s go on …
Obama came first, and he handled himself well in front of an audience that clearly disagrees with him on many issues. He also managed to put to rest the notion that he is a Muslim, which 12 percent of Americans still believe he is. He talked directly to Rick Warren as though they were having a real conversation, whereas McCain played to the audience, rarely looking at Warren. He was low-key, thoughtful and nuanced.
That kind of nuance is hard to understand sometimes — it’s unclear, complicated. Obama’s world can be scarier. It’s multicultural. It’s realistic (yes, there is evil on the streets of this country as well as in other places, and a lot of evil has been perpetrated in the name of good). It’s honest. When does life begin? Only the antiabortionists are clear on that. For the majority of Americans (who are pro-choice), it is “above my pay grade,” in Obama’s words, where there is no hard and fast line to draw on what’s worth dying for, and where people of all faiths have to be respected.
Stupid is easy. Stupid lets you give clear and unambiguous answers to murky and complicated questions. Smart, on the other hand, requires dealing with reality.
Columnist William Kristol, a high priest of the religion of stupid, wrote of Saturday night’s whatever it was:
Obama made no big mistakes. But his tendency to somewhat windy generalities meant he wasn’t particularly compelling. McCain, who went second, was crisp by contrast, and his anecdotes colorful.
Smart is boring. Stupid is much more “compelling,” i.e., entertaining and comforting.
(Later in the same column, Kristol challenges his readers: “Where in particular has the United States in recent years — at home or especially abroad — perpetrated evil in the name of confronting evil?” He really doesn’t know. Truly, this is the Stupidity of the Gods.)
Michael Gerson, who’s just a watered-down David Brooks as far as I’m concerned, wrote,
First, the forum previewed the stylistic battle lines of the contest ahead, and it should give Democrats pause. Obama was fluent, cool and cerebral — the qualities that made Adlai Stevenson interesting but did not make him president. Obama took care to point out that he had once been a professor at the University of Chicago, but that bit of biography was unnecessary. His whole manner smacks of chalkboards and campus ivy. Issues from stem cell research to the nature of evil are weighed, analyzed and explained instead of confronted.
Now, let’s think about that last sentence. To me, weighing, analyzing and explaining issues are inseparable from “confronting” them. You have to understand an issue thoroughly before you can deal with it wisely, and sometimes the wisest course is to leave the dadblamed issue alone. In Rightieworld, however, “confronting” an issue takes these steps:
- Identify what you want to do (e.g., attack Iraq; help your oil industry buddies increase their profits).
- Find or manufacture a reason why you should do what you want to do.
- Overwhelm news media and the American people with blustering rhetoric about why America must do what you want to do, accompanied by juvenile taunting of anyone who disagrees with your doing what you want to do.
- Do the thing you want to do.
- Spend the next several months or years denying or making excuses for the mess you made by doing what you wanted to do.
- Eventually, when the mess turns out to be an undeniable failure — blame liberals.
Notice there is neither weighing nor analyzing in the list above. Weighing and analyzing is for academics and women. Red-blooded Americans take the hairy-chested, Neanderthal approach and just smash the hell out of whatever is bothering them.
Let’s talk about moral issues. I’ve written in the past about how “moral clarity” is not clear at all. “Moral clarity” is based on bullshitting yourself; a refusal to weigh and analyze all facets of an issue.
Essentially, “moral clarity” is about bullshitting yourself. It’s about not dealing honestly and compassionately with all aspects of a moral issue. Instead, the “morally clear” begin with the position they want to take and work backward to justify it, scamming themselves and others when necessary to achieve the desired outcome. This twisted way of achieving “clarity” is founded in the dualistic thinking Glenn Greenwald writes about. This dualism assumes one side of an issue must be “good” and the other must be “bad.” Thus, in much anti-choice literature embryos can talk and women who choose abortions are either ignored or assumed to have evil or selfish motivations. But real-world moral issues often involve multiple “good” sides. It is actually quite rare for people and facts to so neatly sort themselves into “good” and “bad” boxes as the morally clear want to sort them. And by achieving “clarity” based on lies and false assumptions, the “clarifiers” actually create more pain and complication.
But, by gawd, “moral clarity” works great on television. The “morally clear” can look the camera in the eye and give decisive, sound-bite answers. People attempting to deal with reality have to explain things. They must fall back on nuance. Boooooooring.
Finally, the really great thing about stupid is that it allows you to believe whatever you want to believe. Peter Dizikes writes that gurus of the Right like Rush Limbaugh and Jerome Corsi are telling people there is all kinds of cheap and readily available oil here at home if only the snotty, elitist liberals would let the noble and virtuous oil industry drill for it. In fact, Corsi tells people that petroleum is not a fossil fuel but instead is something the earth keeps regenerating, never mind what those snotty elitist scientists with their fancy Ph.D.s say.
See how we’ve solved the energy crisis? All we have to do is drill, drill, drill and we’ll get all the cheap oil and gas we want as soon as we want it. And we’ll never have to worry about an energy crisis again. We don’t have to listen to the boring liberals and their boring explanations about science and renewable energy and technology and stuff.
Stupidity like this makes me wonder how our species survived as long as it has, frankly.