...Lest Morons Become the Norm...

Jan. 7 - I want to start with a private disclosure. I didn't vote for George Bush in 2000. I didn't vote for Al Gore, either. I voted instead for the Libertarian candidate, Harry Browne.

I didn't expect Harry Browne to do any better than he actually did. I just wanted to tell the major parties, "Give me a Republican that doesn't want to legislate morality or a Democrat that doesn't want to spend all my money and maybe I'll vote for your guy."

One warm and cloudless September morning in 2001, however, the world changed. Defense and foreign policy issues, a mere sidebar to American political discourse since the end of the cold war, suddenly re-emerged transcendant. I saw Harry Browne on a couple of cable news shows and realized he was an idiot on foreign policy. And I didn't like his tie.

I found myself suddenly warming to George W. Bush. I hated listening to him talk without a prepared speech in front of him—whenever he speaks off-the-cuff he reminds me of a shy kid struggling through an oral report in front of the class—but at least I understood what he meant and I thought it made sense.

I think most of what he's been doing since then makes sense, too. I don't agree with every policy decision he's made, but I could say that about anyone who's ever held political office.

Now I learn from Neal Starkman that my support for Bush has nothing to do with my political beliefs, my experience, or my ideals. No, Mr. Starkman sees only three possible causes for supporting George W. Bush: excessive wealth, excessive Christianity, or plain stupidity.

Since I'm neither wealthy nor religious, I'm obviously one of those people Mr. Starkman claims "cannot understand the phenomenon of cause and effect. They're perplexed by issues comprising more than two sides. They don't have the wherewithal to expand the sources of their information. And above all—far above all—they don't think."

These are the people whom Mr. Starkman believes "comprise a substantial minority—perhaps even a majority—of the populace."

Get it? Bush is popular because his supporters are stupid. (If you think I'm over-simplifying, read the entire column, which is even headlined "The S factor explains Bush's popularity.")

As Mr. Starkman himself acknowledges, this is a tenet of liberal dogma that "no one talks about. The pollsters don't ask it, the media don't report it, the voters don't discuss it." This is false. Everyone talks about everyone else's stupidity all the time—at least, when they're not talking about sex or money—they just don't share Mr. Starkman's conviction that one political party has a monopoly on stupidity.

After stamping such a broad chunk of the American electorate with his diagnosis of Stupid, he says "I don't have a solution to this problem. To claim I did would belie my previous arguments. But I do have some modest suggestions that might provide a start for discussion." His modest suggestions include voter intelligence tests, "three-significantly-stupid-behaviors-and-you're-out" legislation, and so on.

His use of the modifier "modest" shouldn't be lost on you—it's the "subtle" way of indicating a tongue at least partially in cheek. It is ordinarily followed by outrageous proposals that are supposed be either very funny or very ironic. It's a tribute to Jonathan Swift's monument to satire, "A Modest Proposal," in which he proposed that the Irish famine could be relieved if only the Irish would eat their own children.

Mr. Starkman probably believes he was writing satire. As a sometime satirist myself, I find that troubling. If satire just means calling people you disagree with stupid—without being at all clever or inventive about it (at least call me an anacephalitic gelatinous lumps!)—then our kindergartens and nursery schools are veritable hothouses of satire and I'm a fool to have worked at it half my life. (I don't deny I'm a fool, I just didn't think writing satire would be one of the things that proved it.)

To condense Mr. Starkman's thesis into a single topic sentence: many or most voting American conservatives are too stupid to handle the responsibility of voting, since the fact that they vote conservative is a symptom of stupidity, so we need to do what we can to purge them from the rolls.

As satire it's pretty lame. What troubles me isn't that a lousy satirist got paid good money for bad work, but what his mindset says about his own political beliefs. This is liberalism?

Unfortunately, I think it is—at least, it is in America today. American liberalism is increasingly becoming the belief that Americans are much too stupid to know what the hell they ought to be doing with their lives, and that they therefore need clever professional thinkers to direct them.

Fair enough. Belief in man's inability to govern himself—or rather, the other man's inability to govern himself as well as you could govern him—is an old and storied political philosophy. You'll find it in Plato and Marx and many a thinker in between. I don't happen to share that view, and I think I think it's cheap and demeaning and prone to terrible abuse, but I don't dispute its validity. That's why I can never be an American liberal: I want to decrease, not increase, other people's power to tell me what to do.

The odd thing, to me, is the intellectual disconnect between this foundational thought, this iron plank in the current American liberal platform, and the ubiquitous "liberal" criticisms of the current administration as being fascist.

What, after all, is more fascist than the idea that people who disagree with you shouldn't be allowed to vote?

When I was a child, my little sister and I used to kill time on long family car trips by pretending we were racing all the other cars on the highway. There was only one rule: any car that passed us was disqualified for speeding.

We were undefeated.

I'm sure Mr. Starkman is going to receive a withering blogospheric bitch-slapping, so my whole rant is probably superfluous, but I'd like to go the extra mile and predict his response to any criticisms of his column:

"My critics are just proving my point," he'll say. "They're obviously just too stupid to appreciate my satiric wit."

The only other possibility is that Mr. Starkman is actually a conservative satirist. If so, I stand not only corrected, but humbled by his genius.

* * *

Today is the birthday of Nicolas Cage (1964), Katie Couric (1957), Kenny Loggins (1948), Charles Addams (1912), and Millard Fillmore (1800).

Happy Wednesday!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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