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Dumb Masses and Smart Asses

March 30, 2010

Though it may not be apparent to a reader of this blog, I’ve never been particularly inclined to take up sides in our unsophisticated and unidimensional partisan political structure. There are simply more variables than “liberal” or “conservative.” Those terms describe of attitudes toward particular policy issues, and do not require exclusive, total devotion and application for every single policy. We need a new language of politics because so many policy areas simply allow for divergent possibilities and approaches that don’t cleanly fit into our preexisting definitions and thus can make political waters murky and unsafe for people to happily associate with certain political organizations.

But it’s really hard not to enter the fray to defend the Democratic side when Republican “wedge” rhetoric polarizes people into groups of unthinking fascists and everyone else. I wish I was exaggerating, but a new poll reveals totally deranged Republican attitudes about Obama:

  • 67 percent think he’s a socialist (let’s temporarily ignore the fact that this is a relative term)
  • 57 percent think he is a Muslim
  • 45 percent believe that Obama was “not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president”
  • 38 percent say that Obama is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”
  • And 24 percent say “he may be the Antichrist.”

I apologize for my own share of fear-mongering, but I get fearful myself when I see that Sarah Palin tells thronging and cheering masses of tea-partiers that “We don’t need no smart Prez’dent.” Ok, that’s a bit of a paraphrase, but it’s not far off the real quote:

In these volatile times when we are a nation at war, now more than ever is when we need a commander-in-chief, not a constitutional law professor lecturing us from a lectern.

Maybe it’s easy to pick off the low-hanging fruit of the Republicans’ political branches, but that just reminds me of the phrase that “it’s better to be a smart ass than a dumb ass.” But in the end, if you can accept any validity in that maxim, you still have to be an ass.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. David Schwartz permalink
    March 30, 2010 8:25 am

    Those statistics are absolutely terrifying from anyones political perspective. Sigh….

  2. March 30, 2010 2:43 pm

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more.

    However, isn’t this somehow asking for some type of parliamentary system? Simply asking for more lines of delineation (other than one), is asking for a three or more party system (where a party is only defined as a group of individuals with a common identity and set of beliefs).

    I am always annoyed and on the fringe with American politics, largely due to there only being two temperatures of the water, but isn’t that possibly my problem, and not necessarily one with the system?


    • slickricks permalink*
      March 31, 2010 7:38 am

      Parliamentary system are not defined by the fact of more than one party; they are defined with reference to the way elections are run. Parliamentary systems usually dole out political representation according to the proportions of the polity’s overall alignments and beliefs (allowing the 2-3% “fringe” groups to have a voice). The United States, on the other hand, has geography-specific, district-based member voting. This regime encourages grandstanding and individual whoredom to advance the interests of single representatives rather than any party or cause overall. The members essentially interpose themselves between the polity and the policy, a safety mechanism that would distill virtue and moderate the passions of factions believed to be wise by the Founders (see Federalist 10). The problem is that substance (the ends members were supposed to serve as the means of achieving) is usually totally obscured by the attention-seeking individuals who play this game.

      Getting to your point, Tyler, because
      we don’t demand more stringent, coherent and transparent identifiers of a member’s various stances ot ideologies, we make it easier for those members to say one politically pleasing thing and do another. The number one factor in determining how a given American will vote for a Congressman is name recognition, and then party identification is number two. Assuming a member has worked their hardest at being a media whore, all he has to do is put the correct little letter on the ballot, regardless of whether or not that letter translates into political action (see, e.g., Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Joe Lieberman (D-Fantasyland)).

      Furthermore, having only two lines of demarcation inherently reduces the incentives to cooperate on a pure game theory level of analysis. One scores many more points by appearing steadfastly and earnestly clinging to “truth,” while your cooperating and compromising opponent seems to flap in the political winds.

      Americans simply have an absolutist, take-no-prisoners, accept-no-defeat heuristic approach to politics. It’s why we’re fighting the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, and the War on Rationality so successfully.


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