Hail to the Stupid

Brian Morton: Why do we lionize the stupid in American politics?
This post, written by Brian Morton, originally appeared on The Smirking Chimp

The magician and skeptic Penn Jillette once said, "You should wear your intellect like James Dean wore a leather jacket."

Now, Penn is no fan of Al Gore, but to view the way Gore is being treated upon publication of his New York Times No. 1 best seller The Assault on Reason is to wonder, What ever happened to a respect for knowledge in this country?

Dana Milbank, former White House correspondent and now Washington Sketch columnist for The Washington Post, used to be one of the Bush administration's most disliked reporters in the briefing room because of his incisive questioning and his ability to pierce through the double-talk, spin, and bullshit emitted from the podium there twice a day during the press gaggles. But now Milbank the opinion columnist is mocking Gore as "the smartest guy in the room" like some high-school jock sitting in the back of the English class who hides his SAT scores from his smarter buddies.

"Imagine the Iowa hog farmer cracking open Assault on Reason, and meeting Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Lippmann, Johannes Gutenberg, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson and Marshall McLuhan--all before finishing the introduction," Milbank writes in his May 30 column. Whoa--I wouldn't want to be Milbank the next time he visits Cedar Rapids after demeaning the intelligence of some of the most politically astute citizens in the nation. Politicians often demean "coastal elites" and residents of Northeastern states (remember how they treated Vermonter Howard Dean as if he was some latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, New York Times crossword puzzle-in-ink effete liberal snob?), but a journalist firing a shot at Iowa hog farmers as if they haven't gone to college seems a hair dangerous to me.

But it all comes back to what we've subliminally been told we should want in our country's leaders for a few decades now. We are told that we want someone we should feel comfortable sitting down and having a beer with, someone who "is a regular guy." The jokers at Fox had a great time mocking John Kerry for his windsurfing after hailing George W. Bush prancing around the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in a flight suit after helping pilot his jet out to the boat. War-decorated Kerry, who rides motorcycles and pilots helicopters and (lest we forget) Swift boats, was treated as some sort of dork, while Bush, who got his ass handed to him in each of their three debates, gets a pass for not being able to string simple sentences together with a subject, verb, and object.

Apparently we should lionize the stupid.
Brian Morton is a columnist for the Baltimore City Paper.
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