There was a time when there were statesmen among the GOP’s elected and appointed officials. Men of academic and intellectual accomplishment, such as Dwight Eisenhower, Earl Warren, Nelson Rockefeller and yes, George H.W. Bush. Men and women who didn’t brag about not having a passport (the estimable Dick Armey), misunderstand how birth control works or think French kissing was invented in Gaul.
Those were the days.
For the past generation, Republican leaders, talk-show hosts and elected officials have made it their mission to mock anyone of serious intellectual import (liberal elitist!), attack the professional class and wonder aloud about proven science on about as constant a loop as Sex In The City reruns on E!. They have fed at the trough of what the late historian Richard Hofstadter dubbed Anti-intellectualism In American Life.
These decisions have had their consequences. One of the most loyal groups to emerge among what Ruy Teixeira has called The Emerging Democratic Majority are professionals located among “Ideopolis” clusters around the country, usually major cities or college towns and their suburbs. Those who make their living with creativity that requires advanced education, such as software developers, architects and nurses, have abandoned the Grand Old Party in droves. For some reason, seeing gravity as part of suspiciously Semitic War on Christmas, or the principle of inertia as a left-wing plot to grow welfare rolls, just doesn’t hold the same chant-”USA”-three-times-and don-an-American-flag-bikini cachet for those post-GED.
So it should be no surprise that if conservative and you chew your own food, or are willing to try three syllables on for size, you might just become what Paul Krugman refers to as “a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.”
As in judicial activist Antonin Scalia, Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan–today’s right-wing, intellectual dream team we often hear talked about as if they invented cold fusion. Scalia, a Supreme Court Justice appointed by Ronald Reagan, thinks he sounds awful smart when he bullies counsel for the liberal side of any case before the Court and uses Tea-Party talking points to do it. Most recently, he compared the mandate in the Affordable Care Act to making people buy broccoli and in 200 years of jurisprudence is the only Supreme Court Justice to commit “flatulence” to written opinion—and I don’t even think he was talking about Clarence Thomas.
Then there is presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, “the ideas guy.” I’m not quite sure what most of them are, or if they involve large ethics fines, but a guy who’s calling for basically destroying government’s ability to do anything and simultaneously for a lunar colony–well, Pauly Shore was also big in the 90s and probably had some ideas too.
Finally we have Rep. Paul Ryan, who recently released a budget document so utterly obtuse, that the House GOP Caucus had to go and vote for it right away. To get to the heart of Ryan, let me again harness the wit and wisdom of Nobel-Prize winner Paul Krugman:
“Mr. Ryan talks loudly about the evils of debt and deficits, but his plan would actually make the deficit bigger…is his budget really the most fraudulent in American history? Yes, it is.”
Somehow slashing taxes on multinational corporations and Romneys while increasing defense-contractor spending and not mentioning where most of the spending cuts come from–that, my friends, has led Ryan to be hailed as the next Cincinnatus with a side of Enrico Fermi. And with those numbers he might just balance the budget–sometime after we make contact with the planet Vulcan.
George Carlin once pointed how many of the daft and dull one meets in an average day. He reminded us to “think about how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of ‘em are stupider than that.” If the above is what counts for smarts in today’s GOP political apparatus, we can probably postulate which half they walk among.
Follow me on Twitter @cliffschecter
This piece was first published at Al Jazeera English