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The GOP Race to the Bottom

CNN commentator Jack Cafferty asks a very good question:

When it comes to presidential politics, why does America seem to be allergic to brains?

I’ve been wondering the same thing. Like, how did we end up with the current crop of Republican frontrunners? As The Onion satirically put it in a recent headline “White-Hot GOP Race Down To Two Mentally Ill People, Person Who Lost Nomination Last Time”. Cafferty agrees, comparing GOP superstars Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann to The Three Stooges, and saying that Perry’s quick rise in the polls is “a little scary”.

Richard Dawkins was recently asked about the anti-science stance of candidates like Rick Perry. An excerpt from his response:

There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

Unfortunately, unlike homosexuality, which is not actually spread by gay people, people like Rick Perry are doing everything they can to spread stupidity. In Texas, where Perry has been governor for a decade, millions of students are heading back to school this week, and they face a dramatically revised, state-mandated social studies curriculum that deliberately pushes a conservative, and factually bizarre agenda. For example, students will be required to learn about Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Phyllis Schlafly, and Estée Lauder. Indeed, Lauder is is designated one of the 68 most important historical figures in our country’s history, but that list strangely does not include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or John Adams. The curriculum also teaches that the findings of Joe McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities were confirmed, which is simply not true.



  1. ZJD wrote:

    I read the article – truly disturbing.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 2:32 am | Permalink
  2. Max wrote:

    Nixon was smart. But since then, it’s been all downhill.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 4:04 am | Permalink
  3. Michael wrote:

    Sorry, Jack Cafferty lost all credibility to me when he said the tea party is “the only group that gets it?”

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink
  4. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    I’ve probably made this comment before, but this behavior is baffling to me. Finding the “average joe, guy you want to drink a beer with” president seems to be the goal. I can’t think of many other extremely stressful, high profile power positions that you’d want those kind of people in.

    I always draw the analogy, do you want the average joe neurosurgeon removing your brain tumors? If not, then why would you want the leader of arguably the most powerful nation on earth to be average?

    But consider how frightening this is: Bush won twice with the anti-intellectuals and he went to Yale! Perry went to Texas A&M. He should win in a landslide…

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink
  5. starluna wrote:

    I had always wanted more diversity in the college education of our higher elected officials. I do actually think it is quite sad that the majority of our Presidents as of late and even Supreme Court justices went to Ivy League schools rather than state universities or small liberal arts colleges. But, at the same time, I am disturbed that the only people who went to these schools who would be elected are fools like Perry.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  6. David Freeman wrote:

    Historically, there were two ways to get into the Ivy’s, excellence or privilege. I believe the latter accounts for the large numbers of Presidents and Justices more than the former.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  7. Don wrote:

    I think back to Saint Ronnie Reagan. When governor of California, and later as president, Reagan on numerous occasions made reference to those of higher learning, belittling those with quality educations that had actually learned to use their skills and abilities.

    The idea that we need to elect folksy presidents goes back a long ways – Andrew Jackson perhaps being the first. The thing with Jackson was, though, he had a brain and truly knew how to use it. This current crop of Republican bozos thought they heard “crane” when god was handing out brains and asked for light weight ones.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink
  8. westomoon wrote:

    Superb little piece!

    There’s a further note of surrealism to this topic — periodically, one of the R Brain Trust (they clearly don’t like smarts in their Congressional representation either) will make some comment about Obama not having the brains for the job. I mean, say what you like about the Prez, brains are his strongest suit. And come to think of it, don’t they sometimes cite as proof the fact that he didn’t start out at Columbia?

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  9. atwork wrote:

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  10. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    Starluna and others: I agree that you don’t need a sheepskin to be an intelligent person. I also agree that having a degree doesn’t make you smart. And I also agree that there is a difference, somewhat, in book smart and street smarts.

    However, it really feels like our society has come full circle now to where if you have gone to college, you are actually less intelligent than someone who did not. Like, people are trying to downplay their own education. I’m just waiting for the moment where someone says, “well, it is true that I did go to college, but don’t worry: I got a ton of D’s!”

    A time ago I read a comment on the internet that seems to become more true as time goes on:

    “Everytime I hear someone say, ‘I’m not book smart, I’m street smart,’ what I hear is, ‘I’m not real smart, I’m fake smart.'”

    Being surrounded by a lot of right wingers in various aspects of my life, I find it quite hilarious that my opinion and information is very valuable to a lot of people in different scenarios: technical advice, relationship advice, psuedo-psychological advice, etc. Until we get to politics (and to a lesser degree, religion). Then, because I lean left, I’m some sort of imbecile who doesn’t “really” understand how the world works. Living in a fantasy land, etc. I often wonder, how could that be? How could I be razor sharp and offer valuable insight in everything, but somehow have the wool of naivete entirely pulled over my eyes when it comes to politics?

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  11. PatriotSGT wrote:

    For my 2 cents there is a difference in book smarts and experience gained in the non-book arena. You can go to all the best business schools in the world and it will not prepare you as well as being in business. Now if you have gained experience in actual business AND have the additional knowledge of some fine business schools you’ll probably be better prepared then either category standing alone.
    I’ve worked for many a book smart Officer in the military who couldn’t lead a Boy Scout troop through a shopping mall. I think the deficit is in leadership and to my knowledge that is not a major offered in any college except the school of hard knocks on the street, so to speak. IMO you need both to really compete and depending on the business you may need more of one then the other.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  12. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    The issue I have is that often what a college transcript tells you is not so much what a person knows, but that they are capable of learning, applying knowledge, and growing.

    I work with a lot of people in the tech field who got their degrees in the schools of hard knocks. They are all almost exactly the same. They generally have a lot of knowledge about whatever systems they grew up on, and virtually none about new ones. They lack the fundamentals to quickly transition into new technologies. They attempt to draw parallels between new systems and old, and these parallels are often entirely wrong, adding more to their confusion.

    These are typically the worst offenders with the “it can’t be stupid because we’ve always done it this way” philosophy.

    But, I readily admit that the tech field is a small slice of life, and leadership is a different ballgame (and certainly more applicable to politics).

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  13. starluna wrote:

    1032 – I totally feel what you are saying about the perception of a college education among certain groups. I also see this among the progressive activists that I work with. It’s more than frustrating to hear smart, young people who belong to historically marginalized groups actually try to argue that their refusal to go to college is somehow a form of protest or a statement. I suspect there is less of this on the progressive/liberal side than on the conservative/libertarian side. But the whole thing is stupid.

    With that said, as a college professor, I would also like to emphasize that college isn’t right for everyone. More importantly, going into the trades, into technical fields, or into the military are perfectly valid and good life choices. Indeed, my highly educated self depends on people in the trades to maintain my 150 year old house. I think that too many of us who are highly educated do, in fact, look down on people who did not (and often could not) get a college degree. I’m not saying you do, but too many of my friends and colleagues do. It’s a shame, it’s disrespectful, and it feeds the anti-intellectual attitude.

    We also should recognize that we do a poor job of in this country is preparing people for critical thinking and life long learning. You shouldn’t have to get a college degree to be able to keep up your skills, whatever field you may be in. You shouldn’t need a college degree to see the BS that Fox News feeds its viewers. Being prepare for basic citizenship should be something prioritized in our K-12 education and it unfortunately is not.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink
  14. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    I agree, especially that college isn’t for everyone. Probably because money was valued very high in certain aspects of my formative life (and how my personality works), it is pretty meaningless to me. I tell everyone I can, it doesn’t matter if you are flipping burgers at a fast food place…if you are happy with what you are doing, do it and enjoy it.

    But, as soon as that person starts telling me they know more about economics than Paul Krugman because they are “street smart” with “experience at a real job,” then I lose it a little… 🙂

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  15. starluna wrote:

    1032 – What you said reminds me of a joke:

    A mechanic was removing a cylinder head from the motor of a motorcycle when he spotted a well-known heart surgeon in his shop. The surgeon was there waiting for the service manager to come take a look at his bike when the mechanic shouted across the garage, “Hey, Doc, can I ask you a question?”

    The surgeon, a bit surprised, walked over to where the mechanic was working on the motorcycle. The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag, and asked, “So, Doc, look at this engine. I open its heart, take valves out, fix ’em, put ’em back in, and when I finish, it works just like new. So how come I get such a small salary and you get the really big bucks, when you and I are doing basically the same work?”

    The surgeon paused, smiled, leaned over, and whispered to the mechanic, “Try doing it with the engine running.”

    With that said, I couldn’t fix the engine in my car if my life depended on it. Unless there was a manual. And all the right tools. And even then, I’m pretty sure it would blow up in some very spectacular way.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink
  16. russell wrote:

    Rick Perry has nothing to do with the Texas SBOE. They are elected.

    “that list strangely does not include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or John Adams.”

    Absolute BALONEY. Screw your list and wherever it came from. George Washington starts in kindergarten.

    The TBOE generates millions of words of documented debate every year, it’s HUGELY detailed and not accurately summarized here. Not at all.

    One of my kids just graduated from a Texas high school (with honors – woot). I would gladly pit her knowledge of US History and Constitutional philosophy against most commentators here. She could also kick most of our azziz at biology and evolution. Thoroughly.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Permalink
  17. David Freeman wrote:

    re “Rick Perry has nothing to do with the Texas SBOE”

    “Robert Scott was appointed commissioner of education by Gov. Rick Perry on Oct. 16, 2007 and reappointed to a second four-year term on Feb. 1, 2011. The reappointment was confirmed by the Senate on March 30, 2011. In this role, Mr. Scott serves as the head of the Texas Education Agency, which oversees the state’s 1,200 school districts and charter schools.” –

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 7:12 am | Permalink
  18. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    Russell: regarding your second point, it looks like you may be right in this instance. It appears the list in question is the “recommended but not required” list, not the “required” list.

    However, this misses the larger point that Texas is actively trying to manipulate education to push a more conservative viewpoint of history.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink
  19. starluna wrote:

    Texas, like many states, has a long history of strong local control. This includes the school curricula. Even individual high schools are (sometimes) able to tailor their curricula to whatever the teachers and principals believe is best. That can be good or bad. In this case, Russell’s daughter benefited. In other schools, that might not be the case.

    I agree with 1032 that the state’s recommendations are important, even if they aren’t followed in every school. They are indicators of what the political leadership believe is the most appropriate education. And their recommendations in many subjects are troubling because of the distortions they promote. Those recommendations also have outsized influence on textbook development, which affects other states, which is also why this matters to people outside of TX.

    With that said, I agree with what I interpret to be Russell’s concern: we should be careful not to assume that every child who graduates from TX schools is as ignorant, lacking in skills, or motivation to learn as their political leaders appear to want them to be.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  20. David Freeman wrote:

    The Right-wing bias of the new curriculum is much more obvious if you go to:
    which actually describes the curriculum rather than the simple list of names in Russell’s link.

    You will find:

    “(B) describe how Cold War tensions were intensified by the arms race, the space race, McCarthyism, and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the findings of which were confirmed by the Venona Papers.”

    Much of the bias is simply in the framing of topics. To me the conservative bias does not appear to be subtle but I suppose someone with a conservative outlook could see it as “fair and balanced.”

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink
  21. Iron Knee wrote:

    Heck, I attended Texas schools, but that was a while ago.

    But I don’t understand how people can defend the NEW curriculum and guidelines for Texas schools, which are just going into effect this week, by pointing out anecdotal evidence of past student success.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  22. ThatGuy wrote:

    @ David Freeman

    Good find, not to mention that the accuracy of the VENONA papers themselves can be downright questionable.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  23. russell wrote:

    David – The Education Agency is not the Board of Education. The board determines curriculum, the agency executes it. The board is elected. Commissioners are appointed(one of the few real powers of the Governor). Nice try though.

    EVERYBODY grouses about the TBoE. Yawn. They ain’t right enough for some and not left enough for others. That may mean it actually is democratic.

    IK – Sorry if I am defensive, but geez dude, look at what you posted. Stooges, mentally ill, allergic to brains, ignorance, stupidity, ad nauseum. It is probably a better curriculum than when you or I attended public school here.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink