Election 2014  
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Romney Banks on Voters' Stupidity After Illinois Win

Santorum celebrated his defeat by denying climate change. Romney celebrated his win with a lightbulb lie. And a prominent pollster said voters are stupid. Pattern?

Photo Credit: C-SPAN


In the Illinois Republican presidential primary, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won big on Tuesday, especially among people at the top of the educational and income scales. The victory speech he delivered, however, seemed geared to the factually challenged. 

In the space of a few minutes, Romney lauded the building of the Hoover Dam and the interstate highway systems as two of the nation's greatest accomplishments. And then he he slammed President Barack Obama for his administration's stimulus package. "This administration thinks our economy is struggling because the stimulus was too small," Romney said. "The truth is our economy is struggling because the government is too big."

Where, one wonders, did the money for the building of the Hoover Dam and the interstate highway system come from, if not from government? In fact, the building of the dam was financed by the government as part of a massive investment in infrastructure designed to put people to work and develop the economy during the Great Depression.

Latching on to that right-wing bugaboo, the phase-out of the incandescent light bulb, Romney perpetuated the lie that the Obama administration is regulation-crazed, and that, overall, government is just bad. "The government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb," he said. "Oh, that’s right. They just did."

Never mind that the phase-out began under the Bush administration, or that anyone who can work the Google can easily find that out. Especially the 53 percent of college graduates voting in the primary who cast their votes for Romney.

So what gives? Is Romney really that dumb? Or are such idiotic assertions part of some genius strategy to win his battle for the Republican presidential nomination against an opponent, Rick Santorum, whose rhetoric is even more confounding?

Politico last week ran a provocative story by Alexander Burns suggesting that people who vote are not necessarily the brightest incandescents in the pack. Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling, a respected Democratic firm, told Burns: "The first lesson you learn as a pollster is that people are stupid. I tell a client trying to make sense of numbers on a poll that are inherently contradictory that at least once a week."

For progressives, it's a delicious claim, if applied only to Republican primary voters. In truth, it's more complicated than that. It's not that voters are stupid; it's that people believe what they want to believe. As Santorum put it last night in his non-victory valedictory: "[A]ll across this country, you know in your gut [that] big things are adrift and at stake in this election."

It's all about the gut.


In the guts of Republican primary voters, most have a visceral reflex indicating that anything initiated by a man named Barack Obama -- a man who is not white, by the way -- is bad, very bad indeed. And even in the guts of those who comprise the general electorate, there's a feeling of queasiness that might not have applied to similar policies advanced by former President Bill Clinton.

On Tuesday morning, National Public Radio aired a piece by Shankar Vedantum about a study by Michael Tesler, an political scientist at Brown University, that examined racial attitudes toward Obama's health-care plan. Vedantum explained:

In an experiment, Tesler presents a health care overhaul policy to whites, telling some that the policy is advocated by Bill Clinton and telling others that it's advocated by Barack Obama; Tesler finds that whites with liberal racial attitudes become more supportive of the policy when they think Obama is its chief advocate, while whites with a conservative attitude become less supportive of the policy when they think of health care as an Obama policy.

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