Another recent survey indicates that about one in six Americans still believe the Bush administration had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks but didn’t intervene because officials wanted to launch a war in Iraq.
Yet another poll shows 34% of Americans do not believe in evolution, thinking that humans have always existed in their present form.
The ignorance epidemic isn’t limited to Main Street. More important, it extends to the halls of Congress, the White House, and the offices and studios of the country’s major news organizations.
As Napoleon said, “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.”
What's This About?
A beginning-of-the-year surge in stupidity among members of the political class has pushed me to start a recurring column highlighting the lowlights from the most obtuse American leaders and media figures.
To give credit where it is due, I was inspired to start these columns by the hilariously depressing “Dumb and Dumberer” columns written by my Bulletin colleague Jane Wells (which mostly focus on stupidity in the business world).
Taking further inspiration from the Washington Post Fact Checker’s “Pinocchio” ratings for false statements, my columns will award anywhere from one to four “dunces” based on the level of foolishness or maliciousness involved. I wanted to use “Dumbos,” based on the Disney character, but the Mickey Mouse company is famously litigious.
In describing the behavior of the dunce “winners” I will be careful with use of vocabulary, because most of the words we use to describe stupidity (including stupidity) are considered offensive by someone. Many words do carry clinical connotations that make them understandably offensive. But, as usual these days, everything is taken to an extreme, sharply limiting our ability to enjoy the richness of the English language (I’ll leave that debate for another column).
The sub-headline of the columns is “Search for Unintelligent Life Among Politicians and Pundits.” I confess, I don’t need to search too hard. Choices are plentiful, and I am sure I will have to leave out many more candidates than I put in. In the future, though, I will ask readers for nominations.
The Dunce Rating System
Here’s the plan for my rating system. I am suspect it will require fine-tuning with time. I will do my best to be an equal opportunity critic, but some months may have more politicians and pundits from one side of the aisle than another.
One Dunce: This will be awarded to unintentionally stupid comments or actions that don’t have major repercussions. These are honest mistakes that are not hateful, do not mean to hurt anyone, and only offend the most easily offended. For example, when then Senator Barack Obama was campaigning for the presidency in 2008 and said, “I’ve now been in 57 states. I think one left to go.” Or when Dan Quayle misspelled “potato” in 1992, telling a schoolboy to add an “e” at the end. These are notable mostly as a “there but for the grace of God go I” moments, and because they’re amusing. Of course, the biased media will make these tiny gaffes seem massively consequential, if they’re made by someone they don’t like.
Two Dunces: These will be awarded to unintentionally stupid comments, lies, actions, clumsy phrasing, or poorly chosen words that are not intended to be hateful or hurtful but that do have repercussions, especially when there is no immediate retraction or apology. One example is when President Gerald Ford, during a debate with then Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, said "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." He initially refused to back down from the comment, insisting that Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia were free of the Soviet yoke. The comments haunted his campaign, contributing to his loss in the 1976 election. Another example is when Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in May of 2021, “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice.” Floyd did not sacrifice his life, and Pelosi was clearly playing for political points, somehow leaving aside that he was killed by police. She did not acknowledge she was wrong, instead tweeting a more accurate description of what happened.
Three Dunces: These will be awarded to intentional comments, lies, or actions that show serious ignorance, intentional obfuscation, or ill will, and that could have immediate detrimental consequences. Intentionality and motivation will elevate a “two dunces” to a “three.” The Pelosi comment is on the edge of getting upgraded.
Four Dunces: Malicious, hurtful, offensive, selfish, phenomenally dumb intentional comments, lies, or actions, followed by no real immediate contrition, and that are hurtful, damaging, divisive, or promote hate. For example, when Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign by attacking Mexican migrants: "They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." Also, Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” or “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”
I hope this all whets your appetite for the first installment, “The Dunces of January,” which I will publish on Sunday, Feb. 13.
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Artwork credit: Thanks go to my wife, Julie Good, who is no dunce.