People in America are pissed off, no doubt about it. And rightly so. The America we thought we knew feels like it’s falling apart- and that means all of us not just those who can’t abide a black president. From the run away deficit to Katrina to the bank meltdown to the oil slick filling up the Gulf of Mexico, corruption seems rampant and nobody seems to be able to do anything right anymore. None of us are happy, save a handful of bankers, and few are optimistic about the future. But forget the politics, let’s just talk about good ol’ downright stupid for a moment- and the problem stupid presents for us all.
Is anyone really surprised to find out that Wall Street firms were engaged in shady deals that reaped billions of dollars? No, of course not, but when the average American feels his own pants getting pulled down, he gets upset and grabs a pitchfork and a torch. The reality is simply that our most sacred political agreement has been breached. The age old American axiom- that we don’t really care if government is a grab bag for cronies and corporate interests who line their pockets as long as we, the average American, can hang on to enough of what we earn to live at a basic level of security and consumer comfort. The great problem with a pissed off public is that, untrained as they are in how things really work, they cannot navigate the complexities of solutions and are lead by those who simply call for hanging and burning. That is where we are today and the great problem is that those voices of leadership are, for lack of a better word, stupid.
In one of her speeches during the 2008 campaign, Sarah Palin scoffed at wasteful government spending projects like research into fruit flies. As most anyone who took High School Biology should know, and as anyone in the science field will tell you, fruit flies are one of the most valuable subjects for scientific research available because their life cycle is so fast. They are heavily used in genetics research among other things. It was a really stupid thing to say and what’s more damning than just her saying it is that no one on her staff apparently had any clue either. Even if you excuse Ms. Palin for not knowing this herself, as a potential president, she should at the very least have someone around her who does have a clue. But she is stupid surrounded by uniformed.
But the rightly oft-ridiculed Ms. Palin is not alone. Last week Rush Limbaugh told his radio audiences that the oil pumping out into the ocean was not really that big a deal because, like the ocean itself, oil is part of the natural world and nature would absorb it. As Bill Maher noted, mercury is also part of the natural world but you don’t put it in your Cheerios. Crude oil, of course, is not found in the ocean and nature has gone to great lengths to keep them separated. It was an amazingly stupid thing to say and shows just how lacking in basic education Mr. Limbaugh also is.
Remember Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal? He was the Great Brown Hope for the Republican Party for a few minutes until he sashayed into a video performance like a stylist during Fashion Week. Homophobia aside, while the less than macho aura was problem enough for the Republicans, Mr. Jindal also, in that same speech, railed against $140 million for something called “volcano monitoring.” “Instead of monitoring volcanoes,” he opined, “what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington.” This comment was worse than either Palin or Limbaugh’s because, ignorant of basic science as those two are, coming from the very state where poor planning created the most notorious disaster this century, you’d think he’d be among the last to ridicule disaster planning. It was a stupid thing to say.
And then there is the increasingly pathetic specter of John McCain as he ransoms his dignity in the face of a challenge to his senate seat from a Neanderthal who can do nothing but mimic. Never known to be a towering intellect, the 2008 presidential campaign revealed an intemperate, scatterbrained airhead with an appalling sense of judgment. This was a person who, with no understanding of the history and dynamics between Russia and its former state Georgia, nevertheless when a conflict broke out rashly proclaimed that American’s “were all Georgians now.” When it turned out that the Georgians themselves initiated the conflict to try to manipulate NATO countries, McCain looked…well, stupid. But there is a pattern here. He made a great show of “suspending” his campaign to return to Washington as the financial crisis unfolded only to sit slumped in a chair with the dumbfounded look of a student facing a test he had no clue about.According to the book Game Change, rather than getting a briefing on the drive from the airport to a meeting at the White House, he instead talked on the phone for an hour about dinner plans and then turn to his briefer at the last minute as he was getting out of the car and asked “what do I kneed to know?”
What ties all of these dimwits together is not conservative or right wing politics. What they all share is the idea that political success is simple and that it’s tied to nostalgia. They think the way to get people’s votes and to win elections is by promising to take them back to the good ol’ days when life too was simple. That is the really stupid idea, because there is never any going back televisions with four channels and dial telephones. The naked reality is that human existence is far more complicated, for good and not so good and that going forward will be difficult but it will also be complex as all progress invariably is. Following pissed off simpletons and hotheads waving pitchforks and torches who don’t understand science ain’t gonna lead any of us back to the past, mythical or otherwise. New Orleans will never be the same and the millions of Spanish speaking immigrants ain’t going anywhere. Our days of being the big, bully, “exceptional American” pig around the world also need to be over if we are going to survive. We are all going to have to learn to live on, and with, less.
It’s understandable that the realities of today’s world, and our diminishing place in it, will cause grief for many Americans who used to view the world as two camps- fellow Americans and those who wish they were. The world is equalizing whether we like it or not and the sooner we all move on from the anger and denial stage towards the bargaining and accepting stages the better it will be for all of us, and more importantly for our children. Stupid won’t get us there and the longer we listen to stupid the harder it will be for all of us.
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