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Stupidity As A Virtue

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September 15, 2008

The initial interview Charlie Gibson had with Sarah “The Gumball” Palin, televised on Thursday, September 11, displayed her ability to rattle off scripted answers to Gibson’s questions.  At times, I wondered whether there might have been a “handler” on the set, giving Palin signals as to what answer to recite.  Perhaps by running his hand through his hair and patting his stomach after one of Gibson’s questions, such a handler may have given Palin the signal:  Answer #6.  Later in the interview, when Gibson asked her about a possible invasion of Iran by Israel to bomb nuclear facilities, the “handler” may have scratched his ear and rubbed his right eye: a signal to use answer #4.  After Gibson pressed for a real answer to that question, the handler may have placed his hand to his forehead, palm out, with four fingers extended, meaning:  Repeat answer #4.  When Gibson pressed on for an answer to his question, the hand would have risen in front of the forehead once again, with the four fingers extended.  Although The Gumball may have been able to decide for herself, which question required which answer number, she was obviously reciting canned responses prepared by McCain’s strategists.  Curiously, there was no answer praising the merits of the “Bush doctrine” of pre-emptive warfare.  After the interview, Palin’s apologists explained away The Gumball’s ignorance about the issue, as confusion resulting from some sort of trick question.

In this Presidential campaign, the word “elite” has become a code word for “smart”.  Hillary Clinton used that word to describe Barack Obama, probably because he made Law Review while attending law school, although she never made law review.  (She did serve on the editorial board of a publication called Yale Review of Law and Social Action, which existed only while she was there.)  Obama not only made Law Review at Harvard; he was the President of the Harvard Law Review – an executive position Sarah Palin could never achieve in this or any other lifetime.  The term “elite” is continuously used by McCain supporters in reference to (smart) politicians, news outlets (that employ only smart people), publications (requiring that one be credentialed as “smart” to write for them), as well as educational institutions that would never admit the likes of Sarah Palin or John McCain.  John McCain graduated sixth from the bottom of his class at Annapolis.  He was accepted there because both his father and grandfather graduated from the Naval Academy.  If that doesn’t sound like a familiar pattern, you may want to do some reading about a man named Prescott Bush.

There is an apparent attempt by the McCain camp to manipulate as much of the voting public as possible, into believing that anyone who is “smart” is an “elite” and therefore, somehow “bad”.  This is an easy sell to those who feel jealous of, and intimidated by, people they believe to be smarter than themselves.  The question is:  are there enough of those people out there for this strategy to work?  In twelve years, have we gone from Beavis and Butthead Do America to Beavis and Butthead are America?  The lobbyists who run the McCain campaign are counting on it.  Meanwhile, Palin can continue to say dumb things (including the lie about Iraq as responsible for the attacks of September 11) and McCain can say even dumber things.  In a Portland, Maine TV interview, McCain was asked to explain what experience Palin had in the area of national security.  McCain responded:  “Energy.  Sarah Palin knows more about energy than anyone else in the United States of America.”  Part of McCain’s comfort about saying something so inane, is based on his failure to realize that in the age of YouTube.com, he will be accountable for this statement to a world-wide audience.  Second, he probably lacks the insight to realize what a bombastic claim that was.  Finally, his campaign strategists probably realize that such stupidity will actually endear McCain to a large number of voters. This makes me wonder whether they actually instructed The Gumball to deliberately mispronounce the word “nuclear” based on similar strategy.

The important point to keep in mind is that a significant percentage of American voters do not base their Presidential preferences on any rational thought process.  They decide “from their gut”.  McCain’s campaign staff knows this, because it’s how George W. Bush got elected.  If the Obama campaign wants to stay in this fight, they are going to have to tailor a message that will reach this population.  One way to accomplish this would be to base their ads on proven, successful, commercial TV ad campaign themes.  Obama will never “dumb down” to the level of McCain, Bush or Palin to win over the hearts of mindless voters.  Nevertheless, he should not overlook an appeal to the consensual mentality of that large population, referred to as “the masses”.  He should always remember that sage advice from comedy movie legend, Stan Laurel:  “You can lead a horse to water … but a pencil has to be lead.”

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