Entertainer Bill Maher commented this week that America is a stupid nation. Of course he is correct: any nation that pays well for this type of comedy is stupid. But this gives reasonable observers a real insight into the liberal mindset. An aphorism I often use is, "liberals are sure they are smarter than we, conservatives are sure they are more moral than we." The former is obviously not true and the latter is for a different discussion. But Maher illustrates the former in action.
Viewing the video does Maher's comments more justice than my paraphrase can. But when he was asked by Wolf Blitzer on CNN, whether Sarah Palin had a chance at becoming president he responded, "I wouldn’t put anything past this stupid country." Blitzer then continues saying that "people are already complaining..." At the word complaining, the left side of Maher's mouth raises slightly in consternation that people are complaining about an obvious truth. At least that is the way I read his body language.
Blitzer then gives Maher a chance to "clarify." Maher seems to be thinking of an answer, but says, "I don"t need to clarify, it is." The absolutely deadpan delivery of "I don't need to clarify" may be a practiced comedian's delivery; if so, he is good. But I suspect it is rather the insouciant reaction of an elite to the masses. Blitzer then asks why he believes we are a stupid county and Maher responds, "Because Sarah Plain could be president.... I mean please, do I have to expand on that anymore?" He finishes with "just because they [the American people] elected a bright guy doesn’t mean they [the American people] are bright."
Two thoughts come out of this: We elected Barack Obama because he was bright and, Maher does not understand the concept of circular reasoning, claiming something is true by repeating the "truth." This fallacy is closely associated with the false authority fallacy. Here, we accept an argument because a certain type of person says it is so. The cult of celebrity, evidenced by Michael Jackson's death, allows for us to believe that celebrities like Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Barbara Streisand are authorities. Conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham wrote an excellent book on the subject, Shut Up and Sing.
Electing a president because he is bright is an old liberal canard. An old Saturday Night Live skit has Jon Lovitz playing Michael Dukakis and the brilliant Dana Carvey playing G.H.W. Bush. Carvey is babbling on and the camera goes to Lovitz who looks pleadingly into the camera, "How can I be losing to this guy?" Jimmy Carter was a nuclear physicist, and Clinton was a Rhodes scholar. Did these presidents govern better because they were smart?
Make no mistake, liberalistas believe they have a secular, are opposed to a divine right, to rule because they are educated. The problem is it is a modern, as opposed to a classical education. Classical education was dedicated to finding man's highest purpose, what was the ultimate good. Not to put too fine a point on it, the ultimate good is freedom. This freedom is of a certain type. In Aristotle's words, freedom is doing something for its own sake. It is what man does in his leisure time, after we have secured our freedom in material senses: secured our borders and secured ourselves economically. Education, then, was the development of the arts, as opposed to the sciences of freedom, war and economics.
The modern idea of freedom comes after Thomas Hobbes's argument that, as Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, there is no there there. There is no highest good only the baddest bad, i.e., life without an overarching authority to keep us in line. Education then is dedicated to the preservation of life, the expansion of physical comfort and the avoidance of death.
Modern education then becomes, at least in comparative terms, anti-intellectual. Education is a means to power, to expand our power and control over the universe. Thus, modern education is merely a means to power, willing one's way to power. Once in power this educated class forces their conception of freedom upon us.
In a recent column for the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan commented, "We are living in a time in which educated people who are at the top of American life feel they have the right to make very public criticisms of . . . let's call it the private, pleasurable but health-related choices of others. They shame smokers and the overweight. Drinking will be next. Mr. Obama's own choice for surgeon general has come under criticism as too heavy. Only a generation ago such criticisms would have been considered rude and unacceptable. But they are part of the ugly, chafing price of having the government in something: Suddenly it can make big and very personal demands on you."
The deciding question to this logic is in fact simple: has any intelligent president actually made a better president because he is smart? Jimmy Carter, probably America's worst president if you combine his activities in and out of office, would seem to refute that. Is there even one incident in which Bill Clinton's degrees have made the political situation better?
The reverse should also be true. Have "stupid" presidents made things worse? Bush derangement syndrome in which one must hate for hate's sake needs no proof for true believers. FDR has been described as an intellectual lightweight by scholar Bruce Kuklick. Harry Truman did not go to college. JFK graduated from Harvard with Honors because his thesis, later turned into the book Why England Slept, was completed with the assistance of Kennedy's father's staff while Joseph P. Kennedy was Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Young John had a solid gentleman's C while an undergraduate. LBJ graduated from Southwest Teachers College in Texas. And we are back to Carter.
The result of this trip down memory lane actually indicates the opposite of the elite liberal contention: the most successful Democratic presidents have been of average education and intelligence. How 'bout them apples?