Monday, August 29, 2011

Liberal Condescension Flashback

Now that Rick Perry is starting to look like he might be the next Republican presidential nominee there’s a joke going around in Democratic circles that he’s “George W. Bush without the brains.” You might have thought that, on the face of things, it’s an awfully unlikely coincidence that the country’s longest serving governor of one of the nation’s largest and most prosperous states is not only too dumb to be president, but even dumber than the last Republican president who, in case you've forgotten, was also too dumb to be president despite having been a successful two-term governor of the same state.

Yet that unlikely idea has enough legs that highly esteemed political reporters like Jonathan Martin are writing “objective” pieces contemplating that very possibility.  Yes, the piece is scrupulously balanced; for every source insinuating that Perry's a moron there's another saying that he isn't as dumb as he looks.  But the interesting thing is that piece was written at all.  Try remembering the last time you saw a piece in the mainstream media calling the intelligence of a prominent Democrat into question--even a serial plagiarist with as many gaffes to his credit as Joe Biden was widely regarded as adding intellectual heft to the Obama-Biden ticket.

It's not that liberals have any monopoly on applying double standards.  The noteworthy thing about this one is that it's amusingly self-referential. 

Consider an old chestnut in the literature of liberal condescension, an opinion piece that appeared in the Washington Post during the 2004 presidential campaign by ex-New York Times Managing Editor Howell Raines, delicately entitled “The ‘Dumb’ Factor.” “Does anyone in America,” Raines asked, “doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush?” Raines thought Bush’s limitations were obvious enough to raise “a truly important national security question related to the intellectual capability of the incumbent.” All the Republican campaign rhetoric about Kerry’s Iraq flip-flops diverted attention from the real issue: “Was George W. Bush dumb enough to be talked into adopting a flawed strategy for a phony war by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney?”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Never mind that, as applied to the Iraq war, Raines’ presumption about Kerry’s intellectual superiority was self-refuting. Despite his supposedly superior intelligence, by his own admission Kerry too had been talked into supporting the invasion of Iraq before it happened, and not by adroit Machiavellians like Rumsfeld and Cheney, but by the doofus in the Oval Office. Raines couldn’t be bothered citing evidence for his comparison of the candidates’ intellectual capacity because he was “sure the SATs and college transcripts put Kerry far ahead.” When, despite the Kerry campaign’s best efforts at its suppression, that information was disclosed, Raines’s presumptions turned out to be exactly wrong; Bush had slightly better grades as an undergraduate at Yale than Kerry, higher SATs, and probably a higher IQ (see here, here and here).

Yet these weren't even the dumbest things about Raines's piece.  Call me simple-minded, but I would have thought that the relevant measure of a presidential candidate’s intelligence is the strength of his propensity to identify and effectively implement good ideas and to reject bad ones.  If so, the first order of business for someone who really wants to establish that a candidate is materially stupid is to demonstrate how bad his ideas are.  Once that’s been done with respect to an issue of overriding importance like the Iraq war, inferences about the candidate’s intelligence are largely superfluous.  Everyone already has a much better reason for voting against the candidate than anything revealed by his SAT scores.  

The idea of Kerry as a flip-flopper gained traction because nobody could figure out exactly what he thought about the Iraq war.  Yet Raines had nothing much to say about Kerry's better ideas about how to prosecute the war or, for that matter, about the inadvisability of the way Bush was prosecuting the war.  That would have gotten in the way of his sneer.

I won’t argue with you if you say that Perry is too wrong about too many important things to be president. But, if you ask me, liberals never sound dumber when they’re calling conservatives dumb.  Time to give it a rest.


Anonymous said...

Trust me. I'm from Texas and Perry really is dumber than dirt.

CG said...

You say liberals never sound dumber than when they're calling conservatives dumb. I think liberals sound even dumber still when they talk about how intelligent Obama is. Lotta good that does us.

PS Do we know Obama's SAT scores? Does anyone really care?

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that people who think that SAT and GPAs count for so much never demand that Democratic candidates release their scores or their college transcripts. Bush and Perry put theirs out there up front while Kerry resisted disclosing his as long as he could and Obama still hasn't released his.

Anonymous said...

The only people who care about SAT scores are reporters who have nothing better to report on.

On second thought, maybe this is a job for Donald Trump. I can hear him now: President Obama: Show us your SAT Scores!

Pete said...

I think Romney and Perry should go on Jeopardy. The winner gets the nomination.