When Being Smart Is Not Smart

Once upon a time being smart was considered a good thing. It may not have been considered cool or hip to use the parlance of my generation but still there was a degree of respect and even jealousy for those smarter than us. Today, at least in the political salons of conservative Republicans, anti-intellectualism is and has been the rage for at least the last several decades, and it met with political success.

Where there once was a rational disagreement and argument over the size of government the current discussion is more likely about whether or not there is a need for government at all in most issues not directly linked with national defense. Privatization, which started to gain steam in the Reagan years, has branched out to include health care, prisons, and an increasing share of security issues. There is even a resurgence of Social Security privatization time and again.

The latest tour de force in the world of intellectual paranoia is directed at science. It is almost as if anything that threatens to demystify complexity is viewed with a jaundiced eye. No greater assault on human intelligence in the current policy and issues debate is evidenced in the backflips normally well-educated politicians assume when it comes to climate change. Prefacing every sentence with the qualifier that they are not scientists and therefore cannot possibly be expected to wade into any aspect of scientific inquiry quashes the need for thought. It would be mildly amusing if not outright comical were the stakes not so enormously and tragically high.

I must admit that I had a certain degree of trepidation over Jeb Bush's entrance into the Presidential sweepstakes. After all he was always deigned to be the "smart one". He even dared into some dangerous Republican territory by bucking his party on issues like immigration and education. I assumed that having been the chief executive of the State of Florida he had to be familiar with the dangers posed by climate change? Evidently I assumed wrong. Tallahassee is a long way from South Florida in so many respects. At least he can bring himself to pronounce the words climate change, unlike many considered experts in Florida who happen to work for the state.

But perish the thought that the "smart one" might actually stare political opportunism in the eyes and defy it. No he is his father's son and his brother's brother. Once upon a time his father valiantly declared supply-side economics for what it was; namely, voodoo economics. But after serving at the feet of the Great Communicator (President Ronald Reagan for those not old enough to remember) he would come to embrace trickle-down orthodoxy by boldly pronouncing that conservatives ought to sleep soundly to the lullaby of "Read My Lips: No New Taxes". To his credit, however, watching the economy collapse at his feet would eventually cause him to renounce such pandering pabulum and it in no small way contributed to his electoral defeat in the 1992 Presidential election. A modern day profile in courage many exclaimed.

Yet the important lesson gleaned by both sons from this historical factoid was not courage in the face of fire or sacrifice for the betterment of all but rather avoidance of rational thought or action. And thus we see today Jeb fumbling around the edges of rationalism by refusing to concede the blundering misadventure that is Iraq or the scientific certainty that is climate change. Watch out Dreamers, you may be next.

Evidently being the "smart one" is just too hard. It is fraught with the uncertainty of thought and the incongruity of a strategy that offers the only way to win the general election as a Republican is to lose the primaries. Being smart is a liability in a political desert populated with neoconservative foreign policy advisors, a vocal constituency that distrusts even the concept of constitutional representative democracy, and an issues agenda that would find more comfort in the 1920's instead of the 2020's.

So the lesson to the growing legion of Republican presidential candidates is to reject the "arrogance" of intellectualism and embrace the comfort and certainty of blissful ignorance. It's mourning in America, and that sounds good.