FAIR juxtaposes Rick Perry’s debate performance with earlier conservative columns explaining that while Perry may not have graduated the Ivy League, he has brains! No matter what those snobby elitist liberals think!
I’m not concerned here with Perry’s debate performance (though these discussions about the candidates’ faith that deregulation and the free market will fix everything are worth reading) as much as his defenders.
In a way, this is good news. Back in 2000 and 2004, Republican (and many other) pundits asserted that Bush’s intelligence wdidn’t matter: The public didn’t care about brains or policies, only whether they’d like to sit down and share a beer with him. Heck, Peggy Noonan asserted that Bush not being highly intelligent was a plus, as I mentioned here.
This may have been pandering to the anti-intellectual side of the right (as discussed at the link) or that many in the Washington press corps (Gail Collins, Maureen Dowd, David Broder to name three) openly prefer discussing personality than policy (both Broder and Dowd have written about going to sleep in policy speeches as if that’s something a reporter should be proud of).
Apparently eight years of Bush have convinced the punditocracy that maybe smarts count for something——or that the public, at least, isn’t quite convinced intelligence is irrelevant in the White House. So that’s a good thing. Except that since right-wing pundits are hardly going to dump on a strong contender (at the time) for the candidacy, so their response, as noted at FAIR, is that Perry may not be “book smart” but he’s smart enough to get re-elected in Texas, so he must have something under the hood.
No question, winning a governorship requires political smarts, but that’s not the same thing as having the
qualifications to run the country. Obama ran a smart campaign, but his managing strategies, such as his belief in compromise, are often flawed. Saying a politician has political smarts is like asserting a linguist speaks multiple languages——it’s a bare minimum standard for the job.
In discussing whether Perry can win despite a lack of book smarts, pundits and reporters point out Bush was no deep thinker either. But, as I’ve noted before, they ignore their own effect on the race when they do. Bush didn’t win because voters preferred a simple, ordinary Texas farmer to an intellectual such as Gore; the press actively worked against Gore in many ways (starting with buying Bush’s farmer image when he’s a Yale-educated millionaire from a wealthy, upper-crus family). Did Bush show ingnoracne of foreign affairs? Trick questions! Gore won the debate? Sure, but Bush “really” won because he didn’t fall on his face the way people expected!
Similarly, Kathleen Parker packages the Obama/Perry difference from a GOP perspective as “a Harvard lawyer who wants government to bankroll jobs through higher taxes? Or a Texas A&M grad/Air Force pilot who has successfully run one of the largest states in the country?” It could just as easily be framed as “a man who’s had four years experience running America to a man whose government experience is limited to running Texas” or “a Harvard lawyer who wants cuts to Social Security or a politician who believes the program is completely unconstitutional.” Not that those are unbiased either: My point is that the press (including nominally unbiased reporters) is prone to shape character debates in this way (the Daily Howler recollects how Jim Lehrer tried to push Dole to slam Clinton’s sex life in the 1996 debates, for example) without ever acknowledging that they’re doing so

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