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?