Both the enemies of Republican presidential candidates and the enemies of Democratic presidential candidates are indulging in yet another predictable, pointless food fight about intelligence: who haz it? Who don’t? And why do we care about college transcripts from 40 years ago?
First of all, let me be among the first to confess that I was a smug smartypants back in 1999-2000 who just couldn’t believe that anyone with a C-average had the chutzpah to run for President of the United States in the first place, let alone that anyone else would vote for him. Was my face red–for the next eight years! Much to my surprise, I discovered that in the end, the smug disapproval of college professors didn’t amount to a hill of beans when it comes to political opinion in this country. My bad!
Well, liberals as well as some conservatives are getting in on the action this time around. First, Tenured Radical alerted me to the leaked Texas A&M transcripts of Texas Governor Rick Perry. I completely agree with her that college grades are a foolish thing to prattle on about, especially considering that most Americans haven’t gone to college at all. (It’s almost as clueless and pointless as noting that a candidate used the wrong fork for the salad course, or that he doesn’t know how to tie his own bow ties. Maybe so, but the complainer looks and sounds like an insufferable snob.) Then I read an article by Bret Stephens that suggested that President Obama is perhaps kind of dim because he keeps insisting that his policies are working when plainly they haven’t. I don’t agree with the author that Obama is “stupid,” but I think it’s fair to wonder what’s up with a presidency whose main policy objective seems to be full employment only for Tim Geithner and friends.
Finally, Melissa McEwan and some commenters and Shakesville suggested that racism was at least in part to blame for Stephens’ accusation, when a fair review of the article suggests nothing of the sort. The charge of racism also struck me as uninformed, because anyone with a historical memory going back more than three years knows that it’s liberals whose first accusation about conservative pols they fear is that they’re dummies. Just ask Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, and the ghosts of Ronald Reagan and Dwight D. Eisenhower about that one! Liberals have also leveled the stupid charge against Herman Cain, but I don’t see the accusation as motivated by racism so much as typical liberal smugness and cluelessness about how to actually win elections.
(Aside: didn’t Drew Westen’s article “What Happened to Obama?” tiptoe around some of the same points that Stephens made? Westen, a former True Believer of the First Order, wrote:
A second possibility [for the fecklessness of the Obama regime] is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted “present” (instead of “yea” or “nay”) 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.
He doesn’t say “stupid,” but Westen suggests that underperformance is maybe all there was to begin with. Maybe it happened somewhere else, but I didn’t see Westen accused of racism anywhere in the media or blogosphere, but then I’ve been away from my computer quite a bit lately. Fill me in if you know differently.)
In any case, my main point here is that this kind of back and forth seems to me about as relevant and interesting as playground taunts. Democrats go to college to get more knowledge! Republicans go to Jupiter to get more stupider! Racism! Reverse! Repeat! Just shoot my blog now if this is what the 2012 election is going to be about. We’ll be wistful for the days of “iron my shirt” and “cankles” and “you’re likable enough, Hillary,” as the stuff of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita.
I’m not arguing here that everyone–or in fact anyone–listed above is some kind of mental giant. But let’s can the “your candidate is stupider” talk. There are a lot of extremely intelligent people as well as dummies who have been underperforming presidents, and there are a lot of people who never went to college at all who were great presidents. We are fortunate to live in an enlightened era in which women as well as men, African Americans, Latin@s, and whites, and even college graduates can be called stupid when they run for high office. If anything, I’d say that it’s Republican women who come in for more than their unbiased share of the stupid talk–but let’s just end this here and now until we see how 2012 unfolds.