Saturday, October 16, 2004


The 'Mushy' Bigotry of Low Expectations

knock knock!
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

It's gotten to be almost as predictable as clockwork; or really more like an incipient sneeze: it's probably going to happen (ah..Ah..AHH), but it might not. I'm talking about arguing with a certain type of angry white (usually) man (usually) here in the blogosphere about this Bush policy or that - say, tax policy. You argue to him that Bush's tax cuts are a windfall for a very few, very rich people, and a hose-job for everybody else, especially said angry white working-class man himself. You're telling him that he's voting against his own interest. Exasperated and indignant, he finally says: 'What, do you think I'm STUPID?!.

Oh, gosh, NO! Wouldn't want to call somebody 'stupid'! That would be mean, or possibly even (gasp!) inappropriate! He's daring you to call him stupid, hypocritically relying on a very discrete slice of 'PC'. Imagine the riot of crisscross synapse-firing in his brain at that moment, the wildly mixed emotions; the shocking intimacy of witnessing his amygdala and pre-frontal cortex dukeing it out right there in public cyberspace.

I have never understood why it's perfectly conventional (and commonsensical) to see high or low expectations as pivotal to the performance of children in school, but it's not painfully obvious that the very same phenomenon applies to adults in civic life, especially in a hierarchical, 'broadcast' culture like ours. Although it isn't really altogether new, there has been a marked shift in the last 25 years, the apotheosis of which is George W. Bush: our political and cultural leaders have deliberately re-set expectations lower and lower, and we - in the aggregate - have, inevitably, lived down to them. This is the very definition of mis-leadership (and 'mis-follower-ship').

A commenter on Matt Yglesias' site makes what is, unfortunately, a very good political point about the current Mary Cheney 'controversy':

But there are a great many people in this country who are neither 100% tolerant of gays nor 100% hateful towards them. Many of them would hold the exact position, incoherent or not, that they'd privately love and accept their child if she turned out to be gay, but would also be embarrassed to talk about it in public.

It's all well and good to denounce this viewpoint as based on bigoted assumptions or whatever. But in relation to present-day American political spectrum, these people are neither strongly pro-gay nor strongly anti-gay. They probably represent the middle of the electorate.

Some of the GOP's rhetoric might make it sound like they're trying to masquerade as gay rights defenders. But the object of that rhetoric is not to drive home a logical point but rather to keep the issue in the news long enough to turn this "mushy middle" against Kerry.

Is the position of this 'mushy middle' stupid? Incoherent? Illogical? Yes, yes and yes. Does the type of person this commenter is describing sound like anyone you know or have met? I would bet the farm that it does. Who cares if it makes ZERO sense? The 'customer' is always right.

A very intelligent artist once observed that Americans, to a singular extent, honor, cherish and even exalt stupidity. We love it and reward it extravagantly, while excellence is often feared and scorned (except in sports). While decrying this, he (an American himself) also allowed that stupidity can be a lot of fun, and even charming - we often call it 'goofiness'. Fairly or not, this election will 'send a signal' (as dubya might say) to the wide world, indicating whether or not we understand that distinction between charming and appalling.

In the words of a Great American Icon: 'Stupid is as stupid does, sir.'

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