November 3, 2008


The Triumph of Ignorance: Why morons succeed in US politics. (George Monbiot, October 28, 2008, The Guardian)

Like most people on this side of the Atlantic I have spent my adult life mystified by American politics. The US has the world’s best universities and attracts the world’s finest minds. It dominates discoveries in science and medicine. Its wealth and power depend on the application of knowledge. Yet, uniquely among the developed nations (with the possible exception of Australia), learning is a grave political disadvantage.

There have been exceptions over the past century: Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy and Clinton tempered their intellectualism with the common touch and survived; but Adlai Stevenson, Al Gore and John Kerry were successfully tarred by their opponents as members of a cerebral elite (as if this were not a qualification for the presidency). Perhaps the defining moment in the collapse of intelligent politics was Ronald Reagan’s response to Jimmy Carter during the 1980 presidential debate. Carter - stumbling a little, using long words - carefully enumerated the benefits of national health insurance. Reagan smiled and said “there you go again”(2). His own health programme would have appalled most Americans, had he explained it as carefully as Carter had done, but he had found a formula for avoiding tough political issues and making his opponents look like wonks.

It wasn’t always like this. The founding fathers of the republic - men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton - were among the greatest thinkers of their age.

Yet the one guy they all trusted with power was the conspicuous non-intellectual, George Washington. Likewise our other greatest presidents: Lincoln was thought a backwoods primate; FDR was famously described as having a "third-rate intellect;" and Ronald Reagan and W were, as Mr. Monbiot points out, thought morons, though between them these four won the Civil War, WWII, the Cold War and the WoT, moving from strength to strength while Europe's intellectuals trashed the civilization we were defending.

All you need to know about why we elect the Stupid rather than the Bright is that the none of the latter can subscribe to the Founding tenet of America: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Why would we elect subversives?

Barack Obama may have made a hash of choosing a church, but he'd have no shot at the presidency if he were an intellectual instead.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 3, 2008 1:04 PM
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