Too dumb to thrive

Charles Krauthammer complains that liberals think people are stupid and treat voters with disdain.  This is no doubt true of many of them.  Just as it true, on the other hand, of many conservatives, such as Krauthammer.  That liberals, and people in general, are stupid seems to be implicit in his opening howler:

"Iam not an ideologue," protested President Obama at a gathering with Republican House members last week. Perhaps, but he does have a tenacious commitment to a set of political convictions.

Compare his 2010 State of the Union to his first address to Congress a year earlier. The consistency is remarkable. In 2009, after passing a $787 billion (now $862 billion) stimulus package, the largest spending bill in galactic history, he unveiled a manifesto for fundamentally restructuring the commanding heights of American society — health care, education and energy.  

Because only an idiot would not see that Krauthammer has provided no context for understanding this outrageous claim.  You see, dumbass, it isn't the largest spending bill–at least if you measure by percentage of GDP:

The Obama stimulus package compares in size as a percentage of GDP to the First New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt but is significantly smaller as a reflection of the government budget at the time.

Roosevelt's First New Deal in 1933 created the Public Works Administration, at a cost of $3.3 billion. Jason Scott Smith, a professor of history at the University of New Mexico, estimates this was equivalent to 5.9 percent of U.S. GDP at the time.

But compared to the size of the federal budget in that year, it was 1.65 times the amount of federal revenues. That ratio is more than five times greater than the same measure for Obama's plan.

Roosevelt followed up with a Second New Deal in 1935 based on the Works Progress Administration, which built airports, bridges and public buildings across the nation. Smith said the initial $4.88 billion appropriation for this program equaled about 6.7 percent of GDP at the time.

The funny thing about this dismal piece, however, is not its dishonesty (that's not surprising for Krauthammer), it's its complete lack of self-awareness.  Krauthammer gripes about the unfair characterization of conservatives by liberals by doing the same (to liberals).  It's a kind of op-eddy "I-know-what-you-are. . ." 

A year later, after stunning Democratic setbacks in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, Obama gave a stay-the-course State of the Union address (a) pledging not to walk away from health-care reform, (b) seeking to turn college education increasingly into a federal entitlement, and (c) asking again for cap-and-trade energy legislation. Plus, of course, another stimulus package, this time renamed a "jobs bill."

This being a democracy, don't the Democrats see that clinging to this agenda will march them over a cliff? Don't they understand Massachusetts?

Well, they understand it through a prism of two cherished axioms: (1) The people are stupid and (2) Republicans are bad. Result? The dim, led by the malicious, vote incorrectly.

Liberal expressions of disdain for the intelligence and emotional maturity of the electorate have been, post-Massachusetts, remarkably unguarded. New York Times columnist Charles Blow chided Obama for not understanding the necessity of speaking "in the plain words of plain folks," because the people are "suspicious of complexity." Counseled Blow: "The next time he gives a speech, someone should tap him on the ankle and say, 'Mr. President, we're down here.' "

A Time magazine blogger was even more blunt about the ankle-dwelling mob, explaining that we are "a nation of dodos" that is "too dumb to thrive."

Really?  Again, no doubt many liberals think this is true (many conservatives think liberals have a mental disorder, or are stupid, or have funny ethnic properties, or lack manly attributes, or disregard moral virtues, or they have guilt complexes), but Krauthammer is engaging in the same kind of activity–only worse, because he (1) childishly rips quotes out of context, (2) he picks people who don't really represent "liberalism" (Joe Klein?) and (3) he ought to know better.  He ought to know better because, for instance, too much of the opposition to health reform ("death panels", "2,000 plus pages!", "socialism!", "government take over") of leading conservative figures  was premised on the gullibility of a significant part of the electorate.  In certain quarters, such claims get a lot of traction. 

What explains, one might wonder, some people's belief in evident falsities such as these?  Well, one might say they're dumb (some are extremely dumb).  One also might say they've been lied to systematically by people such as Krauthammer.  One might say, as some have, that there has been a failure to get the message to them.  That's what Obama did.  Following directly, here's Krauthammer on that notion:

Obama joined the parade in the State of the Union address when, with supercilious modesty, he chided himself "for not explaining it [health care] more clearly to the American people." The subject, he noted, was "complex." The subject, it might also be noted, was one to which the master of complexity had devoted 29 speeches. Perhaps he did not speak slowly enough.

This objection is a variation of the argumentum ad paginarum numerum (argument against the sheer number of pages).  But anyway, Obama's point is not that he didn't talk enough about it, it's that he didn't speak clearly enough.  Those are different.   Even Krauthammer should be able to get that. 

One thought on “Too dumb to thrive”

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said:
    …too much of the opposition to health reform ("death panels", "2,000 plus pages!", "socialism!", "government take over") of leading conservative figures  was premised on the gullibility of a significant part of the electorate.

    I watched bits and pieces (that is, what I could stomach) of Palin's last tea-party speech, and references to "any charismatic guy with a teleprompter" and other down-home contrasts are cases in point for:
    1) Conservatives trying to be folksy and in touch with the people, and by contract, casting Liberals as out of touch (needing a crutch) and uppity.
    2) Painting pictures of caricatures, which linger in the minds of people who do not try to process either the meaning of things they hear or who do not have the skill set to sift fact & relevance from rhetoric.  I have had more than one conversation with conservative-leaning people who have a fantastic(al) list of characterizations for which they lack any ownership whatsoever!

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