Monday, August 03, 2009

There Are No Stupid Democrats (Well, Maybe One)

Sherman Oaks, California

There are no stupid Democrats.

By which I mean, there are no Democrats or liberals whom the media consistently portray as stupid.

The list of “stupid” Republicans is a quick jot: Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Dan Quayle and W. were all caricatured as thick and incurious. Sarah Palin was a recent, juicy target of condescension over her perceived lack of smarts, as was failed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Representative Michele Bachmann is also being hazed.

In some cases, the portrait may be correct.

But I can’t think of more than one instance in the last 30 years – I’ll get to it at the end of this post -- where the public persona of a high-profile Democrat or liberal included regular insinuations of stupidity.

There have certainly been contenders. John “Four Ds” Kerry. Al Gore, on his more jabbermouth days. Joe Biden, every day. America also has a minor tradition of black Democratic congresswomen who make palpably insane comments: Sheila Jackson Lee. Cynthia McKinney. Maxine Waters.

And then there are the mayors. Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa flunked the bar exam four times (and never passed). Chicago mayor Richard Daley rarely, to swipe an old Mike Royko line about the mayor’s father, exits the same sentence he entered. The current mayor of Boston is nicknamed “Mumbles,” and his predecessor came firmly from the jock-to-politico school of government. None of them is depicted as stupid. Their mangled syntax is “colorful.” Their ho-hum degrees are “authentic.”

Perceived intelligence appears to be “sticky,” as the economists say. Once a Democrat has a reputation for brain power, no amount of fumbling will erase it. Robert Rubin is and will always be “smart,” although the former Treasury Secretary helped take Citigroup down to 97¢ a share. Larry Summers flamed out as president of Harvard University. Barack Obama can recommend painkillers for a heart condition, which is faulty medical advice, but no one dares question his intelligence.

The trope – Republicans or conservatives with Ivy League credentials can be stupid, but Democrats or liberals can’t be regardless of pedigree – isn’t a judgment call on intelligence. It’s an ideological attack.

The mandarin class – by which I mean highly educated white-collar professionals and media workers – leans to the left and showers favor upon the like-minded. If you generally vote their way (for higher taxes, for a comprehensive “safety net,” for increased government interventions into the economy), you get a pass. If you don’t, not even degrees from Yale College and Harvard Business School will shield you from ridicule.

The one counter-example: Former congressman Joe Kennedy was considered a dimwit, and the perception sometimes bled through to his portrayal in the media. But that’s the exception that proves the rule, and Kennedy’s sour coverage was primarily a product of his personal misbehavior mixing with the ongoing storylines of his family.

So my question stands. Other than Joe Kennedy, which Democrats or liberals of the past 30 years were regularly portrayed in the media as stupid?


Anonymous Fruit Smoothee said...

I've got five bucks for the first correct answer...

3:57 PM  
Blogger statboy3000 said...


I think you strain your point when you comment on the "stickiness" of the reputations of Rubin, Summers, and Obama. All three are clearly intelligent, so their reputations for smarts are justified--even if said smarts are overrated. Summers has never been known for his "emotional intelligence", and I'm sure the media called him stupid during the whole the-smartest-men-are-smarter-than-the-smartest-women fiasco.

I love that clip of Waters interrogating Geithner. He barely conceals his frustration. However, I'm not sure that Goldman Sachs isn't Matt Taibbi's "vampire squid", so I can't count this as evidence that Waters is crazy.

The media elite seem to recognize Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) for the moron that he is.


7:33 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

funny, i immediately thought of the soda jerk JK when you started the post. but before naming him you mention a bunch of consensus morons who are democrats. maybe it's ME who is stupid but doesn't that disprove your whole (typically republican idiotic) post?

3:16 AM  
Blogger PKL said...

No, because Kerry, Gore, Waters, et al., are not consistently portrayed as stupid.

The difference is often a matter of tone. Joe Biden's gaffes are played for a larf, quick hits about what Crazy Uncle Joe said today. The less important mis-statements of Quayle and Palin became continuing story lines portending Serious Implications about a person standing A Heartbeat Away From The Presidency.

6:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John F. Kennedy Jr.

1:13 AM  
Blogger PKL said...

Google Hits

"JFK Jr. stupid" -- 47,300

"Kucinich stupid" -- 373,000

"Biden stupid" -- 3.5 million

"McCain stupid" -- 4.9 million

"Bush stupid" -- 12.6 million

"Palin stupid" -- 21.9 million

"Obama stupid" -- 32 million

- - - - - - - - -

Google hits only tell part of the story, but these are interesting.

To a large degree, they correlate with the way a person is portrayed in the national media. Reporters and opinion journalists were much more interested in portraying Palin , rather than Biden, as stupid, and the numbers concur.

The hits for "Obama stupid" are from webbies who dislike him or his policies, not from national media outlets. I'm willing to surmise that there is not a single report or op-ed in the traditional media which questions Obama's intelligence.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Thedogg said...

There you go again, Paul.
When you are a populous party, like the GOP, you're going to put up candidates who appeal to 'average Joes.'
Average Joe's do not like Ivy league smarty pants. They like people who seem like their neighbors. Or in Palin's case, their neighbors if they happened to live on Wisteria Lane.
Therefore, when the populous party puts up 'regular folk,' they are more likely to be portrayed as dumb. When the other party puts up policy wonks, they are less likely to be portrayed that way.
No bias there. It's just that the GOP really is more likely to put a doofus on their ticket.
However, I would say Democrats are often portrayed as 'elite,' 'wimpy,' 'weak,' and 'pointy-headed.' No right wing bias at work there either. It just happens to be true.

11:28 PM  

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