A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Politics and the Intelligence Factor

One of the things that bothers me is those individuals on both sides of the political aisle who seem to equate the intelligence of people with their political views. A case in point is the recent editorial by Maureen Dowd on Sarah Palin, which is a well articulated piece of irrational demagoguery aimed at the former governor clearly intimating she is an airhead by referring to her as Caribou Barbie. Conservatives do this as well. I heard one conservative pundit call President Obama an empty suit whom the media has assumed is so smart because they embrace his politics and he went to Harvard Law School.

Both sides of the political aisle also ascribe intelligence to those whose politics they like. The left referred to Ronald Reagan as dumb while his supporters believed his intelligence made him such a great president. The right said that Jimmy Carter couldn't argue his way out of a paper bag, while the left saw his ability to think in nuance as the reason for what some believed to be his indecisiveness. George W. Bush was a dunce according to the left and pointed to his grade point average at Yale to prove it, that is until John Kerry's grade point average, also at Yale was slightly lower than Bush's. The right believed Bush to be bright and intelligent and one who knew how to use the perception of his stupidity to his advantage.

But the truth of the matter is, one's political views say nothing about an individual's intelligence. Indeed, those who equate the two use their own political perspective as the standard of determining someone's smarts. I challenge anyone to argue that such a perspective is not arrogant and self-centered on the part of the one making such judgments. People who equate intelligence with political positions are in effect saying, "You do not share my politics, so you are not too bright, because I obviously am. If you were smart like me would see politics my way." Indeed, not only do they refer to other politicians as stupid, they are referring to their supporters in much the same way, including some family and friends.

Evaluating intelligence based on political stance has been around for a long time and it will not go away tomorrow. But the unfortunate aspect of all of this is that it stifles the discussion necessary to discover the goods all of us have in common. In other words, it deflects from the necessary political debate we must have. Instead of taking the views of the political opponent seriously, all we have to do is write that person off as an idiot. We can feel good in deceiving ourselves that somehow we have contributed something profound to the political debate without having to deal with the substance of the issues before us. If your opponent is an idiot nothing he or she says need be taken seriously.

How would it be received if I said, "If you are a Muslim, you are obviously not too smart," or "Anyone who is a Hindu has to be an imbecile." But that is exactly what many do when it comes to politics. If you are a Republican you're dumb. If you are a Democrat, you are stupid.

Intelligence is actually revealed in one's ability to comprehend the issues before us and make a case for one's position and critique the substance of the opponent's views as well. There are liberals and conservatives who are quite intelligent and there are liberals and conservatives who are not too bright. Discovering the difference between the two is not as easy as some people assume.

It is all too easy to play the "idiot card." It is much more difficult to engage those who disagree on the substance of the issues. The former is unhelpful. The latter is all too necessary.

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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian


Ted M. Gossard said...

I appreciate this post so much, Allan, and I agree! (not that I haven't fell prey in my thoughts to this sort of mentality, but I try to guard against that!)

I'm thankful to have a representative in the House, Vern Ehlers, who epitomizes what a politician ought to be. In his case he is indeed intelligent, but he's humble and all about doing his job well. I'm thankful for politicians like him. The late Paul Henry (Carl Henry's son) preceded Ehlers, an all time favorite politician of mine.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I have fallen prey to it as well at times in the heat of the discussion. But I remind myself that is no excuse.

If so many of these issues are so important as we claim than we owe it to ourselves to keep the discussion going and not shut it down with insults or simply turning the argument into back-and-forth name calling.