December 14, 2013

Genuine Stupidity or a Clever Act?

Former President George W. Bush and his wife L...
Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush give a final farewell wave... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am not sure when it first started, but the first time I remember hearing the idea that voters wanted a president that was someone "they'd like to have a beer with" was during George W. Bush's run for his first term. I remember thinking that this idea that we'd want to put someone "like us" in the White House was quite strange. I wouldn't trust someone like me with the presidency; I wanted someone a hell of a lot smarter and more capable than me. Would voters really elect the least intellectually curious presidential candidate I could recall? Yes, they would.

I think that former President Bush would agree with my description of him as not being intellectually curious. He was not much of a reader or a particularly deep thinker, and I think he was fairly open about this. Compared with every previous president I could recall, he seemed quite stupid at times. But I was never sure whether I was seeing genuine stupidity or some sort of act. I always had the suspicion that at least some of what I interpreted as stupidity was deliberate on his part.

It would be great if the story ended there, but Bush was only the beginning. The genuine stupidity vs. deliberate act question reached new heights with Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. I decided that Bachmann was probably not the moron she seemed to be. I was less sure about Palin. Was she an idiot or one of the most talented actresses in a generation? But the question remained: if these women were acting, who were they acting for and what were they hoping to accomplish?

I suspect they were acting for a core audience of rather stupid people who really did want a politician "like them" in office and who had trouble understanding other candidates. And I'd guess that what these women were seeking included the fame, power, and lucrative careers they would obtain. Like Bush, Palin and Bachmann were successful in accomplishing much of what they probably wanted. Neither would end up in the White House, but both have been influential in other ways.

I have a reason for bringing up Bush, Palin, and Bachmann here. I believe they might provide some context in which the most recent time I have asked the stupid vs. acting question could be viewed. You see, I recently found myself asking the same question: I am watching genuinely stupid people or a cleverly crafted act of some sort.

Are they serious? Santa was a White man? Jesus was a White man? Is Megyn Kelly possibly this stupid? No, I don't think so. I don't know much about her, but I have trouble convincing myself that she is really this stupid. I suspect that she knew full well what she was saying, said it deliberately, and had a reason for saying it. Perhaps she was addressing a particularly stupid segment of her audience. Or maybe she was merely stirring up controversy for ratings. In any case, I think we have to agree that she has been successful because of statements like this rather than in spite of them.

And that is where Bush, Palin, and Bachmann come to mind. They too were successful, in large part, because of what you and I perceived as stupidity and not in spite of it. I don't know about you, but I find such a possibility more than a little terrifying for what it reveals about our neighbors.

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