Intellectual State of the Union

I had an interesting opportunity last night. I participate on occasion in market research focus groups for a local company; as is probably obvious, I’m not shy about sharing my opinions, and here they are paying me to do it. This time they assembled a group to view this year’s State of the Union address, and evaluate the speech in real time using numeric keypads.

As a rule, I’m not much for politicians’ speeches, and last night certainly didn’t alter my opinion. They tend to be glorified excuses to drum up emotional support when rational support is sorely lacking. I had planned to do a thorough recap of the speech along with my evaluation, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. There were a couple of things I was happy to hear, like stemming the tide of AIDS in Africa and developing hydrogen-powered vehicles (though I don’t for a heartbeat believe this administration truly supports either initiative), but for the most part, I hovered around the “disapprove” range of the keypad. The transparent beating of the drums of war was a little much for me to swallow, and I was left with the overwhelming belief that if Bush wants me to take him seriously, he’d damn well better learn to pronounce the word “nuclear.”

But that last thought led to another. J.R. “Bob” Dobbs once said that we tend to make two egregious errors in thinking about politicians: one, that they’re stupid, and two, that they mean well. But how does that reconcile with the observation that Dubya is so obviously an idiot? Hell, he flaunts his idiocy.

Duh-byaI can only come to one reasonable conclusion: Bush wants to come across as stupid. Oh, maybe not Anna Nicole Smith stupid, but most assuredly no smarter than the S.P. he is so desperately trying to court. Anti-intellectual bias among the S.P. is nothing new; it was widely cited as one of the leading causes of Al Gore’s political downfall. But Bush appears to have elevated it to an art form, leaving those of us with IQs actually above room temperature cringing in disgust. Unfortunately, there are far greater numbers on the lower end of that scale.

Wooing the uneducated (who — big surprise — tend to be poor as well) is not a new strategy. The Republican party seized on this idea in the post-Reagan era, when they realized that people were becoming less and less sympathetic to the filthy rich (the party’s only true constituency). I doubt it was decided at a formal, right-wing-conspiracy sit-down meeting, but somehow the strategy evolved to try and identify themselves with something the poor and disaffected could all get behind: Religion. Suddenly, the Republican party — expanding on some of Reagan’s groundwork — was God’s party. Republican numbers in the rural South went through the roof, and the Democratic party’s still trying to play catch-up.

Not that the Dems have been afraid to similarly exploit the poor, but by no means in such massive quantities. I think the best (or should I say worst) they’ve done is pushing for state lotteries. The lottery is often called a “tax on stupidity,” but I think, more accurately, it’s a tax on ignorance. S.P. can come from any walk of life, but a high school education will pretty much tell you that playing the lottery ain’t such a good idea. Of course, the poor tend to have significantly lower education levels, so it’s no surprise where most of the lottery revenue comes from.

It’s all enough to make me wonder how much longer I’ll be able to keep up with the charade of voting. I can’t help thinking of the Elder Party’s “Cthulhu for President” campaign slogan: “Why Settle for the Lesser Evil?” Hey, you can’t say he isn’t honest about his intentions.


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