August
9th 2011
Tips for toads: no one votes for smartypants

Posted under: American history, bad language, class, Gender, race, weirdness

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.

21 Comments »

21 Responses to “Tips for toads: no one votes for smartypants”

  1. wini on 09 Aug 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Saying George W Bush (for example) was stupid seems to exonerate him from the many calculated decisions he made during his presidency. He wasn’t a puppet, and he made a lot of decisions because he just doesn’t care about _______ people. In retrospect, he seems to have been pretty unhappy for most of his presidency. Oh well. Poor him.

    My husband is very, very quick to call public figures stupid. However, we’ve become strong defenders of Michelle Bachmann of late. She might not care about American history that much, but she is not stupid and she’s working her ass off right now on the campaign trail. Of course, this is all also part of our general annoyance at Perry’s belief that he can waltz into the game this late and just win people over with his $200 haircuts.

  2. Nicoleandmaggie on 09 Aug 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    Though said transcripts might explain Perry’s much publicized war on the Texas higher education system… he’s got an axe to grind.

  3. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Aug 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    While I deeply dislike at-a-distance psychological theorizing such as that engaged in by NicoleAndMaggie above, I don’t think having absolutely *abysmal* grades in college is irrelevant. There is a big difference between not having gone to college–which is neither here nor there–and having gone to college and completely failed to figure out how to succeed in a totally controlled environment that is specifically designed for the success of white d00ds like Perry.

  4. Nicoleandmaggie on 09 Aug 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    CPP– I don’t think that’s a huge psychological leap there. Not much more than the, “Why did the student who didn’t do any homework and got bad grades in my class when everyone else was doing fine blast me on ratemyprof.com” kind of psychological theorizing. The underlying answer might be he has mother issues, but the link is there no matter what.

    If we wanted to go deeper, we could say, ah, here is evidence he didn’t value higher education when he was in school. That is linked to his lack of valuing higher education today. Maybe that’s the axe he’s grinding. Maybe it’s something deeper (serious distance armchair psychology could come up with all sorts of explanations from his childhood about why the hatred of education). You don’t need to be a psychologist to note the link.

  5. Nicoleandmaggie on 09 Aug 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Ah, I see Tenured Radical’s post is going exactly against that idea.

    I believe I will disagree with her. Perry has shown that he does not prioritize education now, and he probably did not in the past either. The political is often personal (and there are high quality academic papers that show the link).

    I will also note that it may not be a real transcript, unless the Perry camp has vouched for it or the university has authenticated it.

  6. ladysquires on 09 Aug 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    Well said. There is a difference between “intelligence” and “vision,” the latter being defined as the ability to imagine a specific, ambitious trajectory for a nation and communicate that in an effective and inspiring way. GWB, for better or for worse, had the latter in the bag, when great intellects like John Kerry did not. Obama seemed so capable of that during his campaign. I think the guy is a real thinker who has genuine, even compelling ideas, but in such a heated political atmosphere, well-considered, thoughtful pragmatism just doesn’t amount to much.

    As a Texan, however, I feel I can say that Rick Perry has neither intelligence or vision. We–Democrats and Republicans–do not like him. He was re-elected because Kay Bailey Hutchison got caught up in the health care debacle and because Bill White was not inspiring enough to gin up the meager Democratic base here nor charismatic and transformative enough to convince independents to vote for him instead of the devil they knew.

    Perry is, in a word, a haircut. He has few ideas of his own, just the ones dreamed up for him by corporate buddies and political consultants. He is a trimmer and a flip-flopper who cozies up to whatever interest group or cause he thinks will get him elected. Do not think for a second that he really, in his heart of hearts, supported the whole notion of secession. That was about winning a primary. I like to think that this would prevent him from winning a national election, but he has some talented political hacks working for him, so I just don’t know.

  7. Historiann on 09 Aug 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    There are plenty of things to find objectionable or odious about Perry besides his college transcripts. (And hey–Texas A&M, have you heard about FERPA? I’m told I’m not permitted to release any information whatsoever about my students, but someone greases a palm in the Registrar’s Office and Perry’s transcripts wind up on the internets? WTF, TAMU?)

    His hair, however, is pretty magnificent, especially for a guy who must be in his 60s. He looks like those “The Dry Look” ads from the 1970s, it’s so thick and lustrous.

    Overall, you have to admit that Republican presidential candidates and vice presidential candidates of 2008-2012 are much hunkier and more gorgeous than the Dems. Hands down. When I reach Michele Bachman’s age, I hope I look half as good.

  8. Werner Herzog's Bear on 09 Aug 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    I tend to think that politics draws a higher percentage of sociopaths than any other profession. Politicians do not rise by doing what is right or doing what is smart, but by getting people to vote for them. As a recent refugee from the Lone Star state, I can attest that Perry is very good at getting people to vote for him, even while presiding over a state with the lowest percentage of high school graduates and the highest percentage of people without health insurance. He has been a politician for almost his whole adult life; he never really needed the college education.

    In the last election he used his finely-tuned political horse sense to lie convincingly about the budget deficit (which he pretended didn’t exist in his campaign) and pushed the secession talk to get Texas’ substantial population of reactionary right wing radicals out to the polls in force. I only hope that the national media doesn’t buy the “Texas Miracle” bs and notes that Louisiana -freakin’ Louisiana!- has a lower unemployment rate. Like all sociopathic bullies, I’m sure he’ll find a way to make the Big Lie work, though.

  9. Historiann on 09 Aug 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    For those of you younger than 40, here’s The Dry Look.

    As we like to say around this tree house: AWESOME!!!

  10. Historiann on 09 Aug 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    Werner Herzog’s Bear: welcome back. I meant to tell you how much I appreciate your handle back when you first commented. So sad and weird, and yet I must laugh. You are a black comic genius!

    Yes, sociopathic, but at least the Republicans are good looking sociopoaths. That matters, doesn’t it? If you tell me that looks don’t matter, I’ll have wasted at least 75% of my lifetime waking hours.

  11. DickensReader on 09 Aug 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    I wonder if Mad Men will go through the Wet Head to Dry Head process. Can’t wait until next month.

  12. Historiann on 09 Aug 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    HA! Good one, DR. Is MM coming back in September? But I think the Dry Look is still a few seasons away. It’s only going to be 1965 or 1966, right?

    There are only two other question right now: just how drunken will Don and Megan’s wedding be? (If it even comes off, that is.) And will the show actually employ black actors in meaningful roles, or will they continue to be marginal/walk-on characters?

  13. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Aug 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    Historiann, I will still read your blogge even if you advocate for voting for the republican presidential candidate. But in return, MOAR GUNNE POSTES! ahahahahahahah

  14. Historiann on 09 Aug 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    I will never advocate voting for Republican candidates. I just think their presidential and vice presidential candidates are better looking than the Democrats, that’s all. I mean, Rick Perry versus Joe Biden? Gimme a break.

    More gun posts, for sure. I forgot to take a photo of my target from 2 weeks ago, which I’ll post when I am back at 4800 feet above sea level. It’s very intimidating.

  15. Teaspoon on 09 Aug 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    I’m not seeing where Melissa McEwan says racism is part of Stephen’s comments, only one commenter with one comment agreeing with it. It looks like that sentence might’ve gotten mangled in a revision, though, so maybe that’s where I’m getting confused. I agree that it’s not explicitly included in Stephens’ article, and I’ve no information about whether it was among his motivations.

    I wish the various media outlets would spend their time discussing the platforms and track records of the candidates. Intelligence is often nice, but I’m more interested in what it’s paired with. With our current situation, I’m sort of afraid we’ll end up with a genius…of the “evil” variety.

  16. Historiann on 09 Aug 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    Teaspoon: one of the tags on the post is “Today in Racism,” which I assume Melissa tagged when she wrote the post. It’s the commenters I’m disagreeing most with here, but because she chose that tag, I’m assuming that she’s also linking it to race.

    Agree with your comments overall. Hilarious (as in LOLsob!) on the evil genius part.

  17. koshembos on 09 Aug 2011 at 7:00 pm #

    A lot of intelligent people with comments mostly that miss the interesting issues. We know by now that the public debate tends to elevate the insignificant and bury the significant. (See the debate about a meaningless future deficit at a time that tens of millions out of work and the country heads for another recessional ditch.)

    Of course the discussion will be about garbage. The hidden question, applies to Westen too, could we realize that Obama doesn’t have what it takes to be even an average president in the 2008 primaries? My answer is ABSOLUTELY. He had no experience at 40+; we call that a bum. In all the debates, he was clearly not up to par; his logic was iffy. I can go on. Some name calling is informative. For instance, Obama was a bum like Bush and not much smarter.

    Now, kill me.

  18. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Aug 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    GUNNES!!!!!!!

  19. quixote on 09 Aug 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    You mean “Gonne,” yes? (See Pratchett, Terry.)

  20. Matt_L on 12 Aug 2011 at 7:59 am #

    Thanks for the post Historiann. I don’t like Perry. I don’t like his policies, but as a teacher, I think its a major violation of trust to ‘out’ a student or former student’s transcripts like this.

    Besides, I just don’t think his grades are all that bad. I have plenty of students who work hard and come by their grades honestly. I think we forget that a C is not a terrible grade.

    In video game parlance a C means you mastered enough of the material to move on to the next level. You did not get the high score, or any extra lives, but hey you knocked Donkey Kong off his perch. So good work and get on with your next class.

    Plus, I think its wrong to say that grades are an indicator of intelligence. One of my proudest moments was earning a C on a language test. Better than any A I ever earned.

  21. Hey, good lookin’ : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 13 Aug 2011 at 5:13 am #

    [...] of looks: I am chagrined that Comrade PhysioProf thinks I’m going to be endorsing Republicans just because I said that their presidential and vice-presidential candidates lately are [...]