A Thesis in Search of Evidence

The life of an academic can be very agreeable. The working conditions are pleasant. One is surrounded by eager young minds. There is usually no hard labor involved. Pay is sufficient for a middle class lifestyle, but few academics ever earn enough money to firmly ensconce themselves in the upper middle class. The exceptions come for those who manage to bring in government sponsored research grants or who pen bestsellers.

The material success of some business people and others chafes against the sense of justice of some academics. In school, successful academics widely surpassed most of their contemporaries. By God, they are smarter and more clever than these other people. How can can they be so materially successful? Some deal with this perceived injustice by retreating to a smug arrogance that those successful in a non-academic fields are simple-minded Philistines. There is an acknowledgment that professionals like doctor, lawyers, and dentists achieve affluence, but that is OK because they are degreed professionals. Even academics have to concede the intellectual abilities associated with these professions.

Accents can be a key discriminator. If one does carry an accent from an Eastern school or at best a mid-western standard English pronunciation, there is the suspicion that  that person is from the hinterlands, and not quite up to the intellectual rigors of national leadership. While there are many who might feel comfortable with President George Bush’s Texas drawl, there are others from who this provide evidences of a less than stellar mind.

This snobbishness explains the response by academics on the Left (see Clark Clifford) who laughed a Ronald Reagan as an “amiable dunce.” It even explains the reaction by the Left to Justice Clarence Thomas. It is amazing to read criticisms of the mental capacities of Justice Thomas from some who have never read a opinion by Thomas or even any Supreme Court opinion. Is always comforting to assume a position of intellectual superiority over political adversaries.

What is often missed is that the skills and temperament to be a successful political or business leader to not have large areas of overlap with those skills that make a successful academic, attorney or similar professions. Politicians and wealthy business leaders require an above average intelligence and will benefit from wide experience, but at least as important is an ability inspire confidence and loyalty among subordinates. Successful politicians and business people benefit a preternatural ability to connect emotionally with people and to assess others.

What used to frustrate Liberal academics and pseudo-intellectuals about William F. Buckley and continues to annoy them about George F. Will, is that their conspicuous intellectual ability and academic credentials makes in difficult to lampoon with caricatures of Conservative buffoons.  Nonetheless, when confronted with a new conservative, the Left’s (particularly the academic Left’s) instinctive reaction is to seek out speech or factual errors as certain evidence of lack of intellectual capacity.

This has been the pattern so far as Governor Sarah Paliln has emerged on the national scene after having been selected as a Vice-Presidential running mate for Senator John McCain. First, there was the attempt make fun of her small-town background. However, this did not go over well with many Americans who either live in or used to live in small towns. This  tactic was at least less despicable than making Palin’s unwed pregnant daughter the butt of jokes and the victim of vicious rumors of incest.

Palin’s accent was different. But before that could become an object of ridicule, she delivered a blow-out speech at the Republican National Convention with charisma and an innate flair for comedic timing. This was a woman that could more than hold her own in a public venue.

The notion of mentally inferiority dies hard and surely there would be an opportunity to slip her up. In the interview with Charlie Gibson, Gibson asked her opinion on the “Bush doctrine.” She responded, “In what respect, Charlie?” Gibson had a difficulat time being specific.

The Left touted her unpreparedness. Doesn’t she know what the Bush Doctrine is? Well as it turns out there was not single document or speech that points to a single Bush Doctrine. Rather it is composed of a set not necessarily connected components, including the willingness to act unilaterally if necessary, going after countries that harbor terrorists, and acting preemptively. Palin’s response was not only adequate, but displayed depth of understanding that escaped Gibson during the interview.

No one is perfectly knowledgeable or perfectly glib. Palin will make mistakes. However, consider the following errors:

  • Senator Barack Obama once referred to 57 US states. “Over the last 15 months, we’ve traveled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go.”
  • Obama clamed that the the Selma March in 1965  helped to bring his parents together. Obama was born in 1961.
  • As an example of the diversion of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, Obama cited the lack of translators, “We only have a certain number of them, and if they are all in Iraq, then it’s harder for us to use them in Afghanistan.” However, in Iraq the primary languages are Arabic and Kurdish, while according to the CIA World Factbook, Afghans speak, “Afghan Persian or Dari (official) 50%, Pashto (official) 35%, Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%.”
  • Obama claimed that “I had a uncle who was one of the, who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps.” His uncle most certainly played an noble role in fighting in World War II, but Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets.
  • In an interview  with  George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, Obama referred to “my Muslim faith.” Obama is a Christian.
  • Senator Joe Biden, Obama’s irrepressible  running mate, “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.”’ Biden seems to have forgotten that the famous stock market crash of 1929 occurred under President Herbert Hoover’s administration and at the time television was just experimental. The Germans introduced the “first non-experimental public” television broadcast in 1935. Such broadcasts to only a few people began int he US in 1939.

These misstatements are arguably all the result of exhaustion, simple misspeaking, historical sloppiness, or the common political disease of hyperbole. They do not constitute evidence of stupidity or incoherence. However, if Sarah Palin had made analogous statements, they would have received more play in the national media and provided fodder for Left-wind blogs and late-night comedians.

When you hear people make fun of Sarah Palin’s lack intelligence point out that they are nurturing a thesis in search of a evidence, while ignoring evidence that does not support their preconceived notions. People speak with assumed authority on Palin’s lack intelligence largely saying more about their own world view than they are about someone they hardly know.

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