The relationship between the republican party and stupidity.

Many on the right complain that those of us on the left assume, because of our contempt for conservatives, that all republicans are stupid, and, from there, that people like George W. Bush and she-who-will-not-be-named-on-this-blog are stupid.

That is, however, complete bloody nonsense. Those of us on the left acknowledge that many conservatives/republicans — even some social conservative types (although, I confess, rather fewer of those) — are not stupid. They may be evil, but they’re not stupid.

So let’s get this straight. This is an actual left-winger speaking to you here. George W. Bush is, in fact, stupid. She-who-will-not-be-named-on-this-blog is, in fact, stupid.

Henry Kissinger is not stupid. Condoleeza Rice is not stupid. Dick Cheney is not stupid. Paul Wolfowitz is not stupid. John Yoo is not stupid.

I haven’t named any serious social conservatives yet — it’s quite easy to find smart economic conservatives, and even easier (ridiculously easy) to find smart libertarians (Mike, I’m looking at you). It is rather harder to find social conservatives who are not stupid because most of the social conservatives seem to come from the evangelical Christians. And, let’s face it, there’s a strong relationship between evangelical christianity and stupidity, as follows: if you’re a fundie, you have to defy reasonable belief-formation processes on a daily basis, believing stupid crap like the earth being six thousand years old, rejecting evolution, etc., etc. It’s much harder for smart people to sustain that kind of reason-defying nonsense than for stupid people to do so.

But I know, or know of, a few. I recall (possibly inaccurately? it’s been a while) that Stuart Buck was, last time we spoke, a social conservative. He’s not stupid. William F. Buckley was a social conservative, right? Not stupid. There are many intellectually well-accomplished Catholics (Jesuit academics, for example) who are socially conservative and not stupid. John Ashcroft is insane, but probably not stupid. (I’m on the fence about that last one.) The same may be said for Pat Robertson, just because nobody that sinister can be all that stupid and still get away with it. I’m willing to call Patrick Deviln a social conservative because of his famous controversy with Hart about the legal enforcement of morality. Not stupid, even a little. (Hart kicked his ass, but that’s no shame, Hart kicked everyone’s ass — Dworkin’s, Fuller’s, even, indirectly Hobbes’s.)

It is the misfortune for America that the fundamentalist evangelical Christian voters who own the republican party tend to choose politicians like them (or perhaps it’s the good fortune for America: maybe people like Kissinger and Yoo would have done less harm were they stupider) — that is, fanatical fundie evangelical stupid politicians — to represent their party.


11 Responses to “The relationship between the republican party and stupidity.”

  1. The relationship between the republican party and stupidity. Says:

    [...] Paul Gowder wrote an interesting post today onThe relationship between the republican party and stupidity.Here’s a quick excerptMany on the right complain that those of us on the left assume, because of our contempt for conservatives, that all republicans are bstupid/b, and, from there, that people like George W. Bush and she-who-will-not-be-named-on-this-blog are b…/b [...]

  2. Anon Says:

    check this out:

    “When Bush stammers publicly about freedom, democracy, and the axis of evil, American media commentators gloss his remarks positively. Reporters and pundits chronically overestimate Bush in much the way Chance’s admirers do, discoursing about him as if he actually possessed a political philosophy and an understanding of government policies. They overlook, understate, or make excuses for his slipshod syntax, reliance on clichés, and inability to answer either theoretical or factual questions. They inevitably refer to him as if he were a “real” person with a complex sensibility, rather than a simulacrum entirely composed of sound bites and photo opportunities.”

  3. Anon Says:

    or this:

    “Why does this woman – who to some of us seems as fake as they can come, with her delicate infant son hauled out night after night under the klieg lights and her pregnant teenage daughter shamelessly instrumentalized for political purposes — deserve, to a unique extent among political women, to rank as so “real”?

    Because the Republicans, very clearly, believe that real people are idiots. This disdain for their smarts shows up in the whole way they’ve cast this race now, turning a contest over economic and foreign policy into a culture war of the Real vs. the Elites. It’s a smoke and mirrors game aimed at diverting attention from the fact that the party’s tax policies have helped create an elite that’s more distant from “the people” than ever before. “

  4. Stuart Buck Says:

    Thanks, Paul! You’re not stupid either. :)

    There’s a little conflation there between “evangelicals” and fundamentalists; the former category is a lot broader than the latter, and there are many evangelicals who have no problem with an old earth, evolution, etc. So it’s not quite fair to suggest that all evangelicals have those qualities. Moreover, I don’t see why social conservatism (in the sense of opposition to abortion) would have anything to do with stupidity . . . abortion boils down to an incommensurable conflict between the woman’s rights and the fetus’s rights, and neither side is “stupid” for having the unprovable intuition that one or the other should trump.

  5. Paul Gowder Says:

    Stuart! It’s good to [e-]see you. I would have said “quite smart” rather than “not stupid,” but that would have ruined my parallelism. :-)

    Thanks for the clarification on evangelicals vs. fundamentalists. One of these days, I’d like to get a stronger sense of how exactly what those two categories mean and how they interact from the perspective of those to whom they apply.

    But yeah, I don’t see a necessary connection between things like opposition to abortion and stupidity (though, of course, as someone who is pro-choice, I see those who are pro-life as failing to respond to the force of the better argument) — the connection is indirect, in that social conservative positions about abortion, like about homosexuality and various other things, are often though not always connected to religious affiliations that are themselves connected to stupidity.

    I will note, however, that the abortion case is best framed differently — in addition to the issue about the mother’s rights and the fetus’s (alleged) rights, there are meta-issues about whether the fetus in fact has rights, as well as what I see as the more important issue of where these kinds of moral decisions should be made. It’s perfectly consistent for someone to say that they believe abortion is immoral, but that reasonable people could disagree, and that, as a consequence the moral decision should be left to individual women, who have definite rights as opposed to the contestable rights of the fetus.

    I have a pot of pasta sauce boiling over, so must end here, but if you’re really interested I can hunt down some stuff making arguments like the above on the grounds of Rawls’s public reason — which I can’t quite accept (because I reject public reason, for reasons that are very lengthy but if you’re really interested I can send you a paper), but I think the general approach is a sound way for even those who think there’s a moral problem with abortion to accept abortion rights in a morally diverse politically community. (Of course, the simpler position, that I hold, is that there’s no moral problem with abortion, but that does raise sharper conflicts — the position I’ve outlined is meant to be more broadly acceptable.)

  6. Mike Says:

    I’ve always thought the abortion issue was really complicated.

    What’s life? When does it begin? Conception? One minute outside of the womb? When one has sentience? Consciousness?

    A third trimester fetus seems to be “alive” in many important ways. How is an 8 month old fetus within the womb different from an 8-month old “baby” outside of the womb.

    I think it’s tought to even decide what words to use? One second the thing/person/cells/whatever is a “fetus,” and the next, a “baby.”? Is it really that clear?

    What if the baby it outside the womb but stuck to the cord. So it’s still “parasitic.” Can I hit it in the head with a hammer? Why not? It’s not alive, right? (Or is it?)

    My own view is that Peter Singer is most consistent: There is no human life without consciousness. (I’m NOT saying he’s right. I am simply saying his position is the most internally consistent.)

    But….. The pro-abortionists go that far, do they? Are they inconsistent? Or do political reasons keep them from going that far?

    How do pro-abortionists define life? Is their definition of life rational?

    Why does the government charge me with murder if I punch a pregnant woman in the stomach, killing the fetus/cells/person? They do *not* charge me with “stealing a woman’s right to choose.” They charge me with *murder*. Why?

    OTOH, conservatives say that life begins at conception. Let’s say we had a bunch of little merged sperms and eggs in a lab. Next door to the lab was a grade school. There’s a fire.

    Which fire do we run to? The lab, or the school? Query if you know *any* conservatives who’d run towards the lab fire.

    What’s up with that? Sentience must be factored in to our moral decisions?

    Or, if we used that metaphor, would conservatives even think, “Gee, we should go to the lab to save all those merged sperms and eggs.” I’m guessing that the life begins at conception idea wouldn’t even cross their minds.

    People would look at you like you’re nuts if you asked whether we should save sperms+eggs. I’ve done it. Yet, to me, it’s a very difficult philosophical question. If you truly believe that life begins at conception, you might say the choice, ala Kant, is impossible to make

    Anyhow, I’ve identified a lot of issues and don’t expect point by point reply. I just wanted to illustrate why I think abortion is a way way waaaaaaaaaaaaay more complicated issue than people give it credit for.

  7. Paul Gowder Says:


    Really briefly, I think your points, too, ought to lead to the pro-choice position — that’s the force of the argument I suggested for Stuart — when faced with these difficult moral decisions, where many deep values are at stake, the state ought to grant moral deference to individual decisions and deep individual commitments (to living one’s life, to one’s personal religious beliefs, etc.). Ergo, the decision whether or not to have an abortion should be left to the woman.

    The version of that argument from public reason is briefly summarized in Samuel Freman’s Justice and the Social Contract pg. 246-7, and elaborated more & earlier by Josh Cohen, but I can’t find where off the top of my head — I think there’s also a passage about abortion somewhere toward the middle-end of Rawls’s Political Liberalism, but, from memory, I’m not sure where… anyway, I think the public reason stuff can be excised and still leave a good argument about moral deference.

  8. Stuart Buck Says:

    But the claim that “where many deep values are at stake, the state ought to grant moral deference to individual decisions,” necessarily depends — doesn’t it? — on the assumption that there isn’t some greater harm that flows from the individual decisions. So in the end, I still think abortion boils down to the question of which harm you think is greater.

  9. Paul Gowder Says:

    It is true that all these sorts of second-order normative principles that function to rule out first-order principless from, e.g., political enactment or the use of coercion in support of them even if true (like public reason and the notion of moral deference) are subject to the objection “but my first-order principles are more important than your second-order principle.”

    But the second-order principles raise the stakes somewhat — in order to demand that the state outlaw abortion, one must not only say that the alleged rights of the fetus outweigh the rights of the pregnant woman, one must say that in addition they outweigh the force of the second-order principle, and this despite the fact that the second-order principle tracks things like the contestability of the claimed right, the important social value of letting people make some of these decisions for themselves, the importance of people with very different moral commitments being able to live together in society, etc.

    If we let public reason as such back in for a moment, then we can go so far as to say that democratic principles themselves — surely a value of overwhelming weight in most cases — prohibit a pro-lifer from introducing many of the major arguments for prohibiting abortion, on pain of excluding from the democratic system those who do not share their comprehensive religious or moral beliefs. (Alas, that particular formulation isn’t available to me, as noted, since I reject public reason, but if one accepts public reason, it seems like those who would forbid abortion are forced to either base their reasons to do so on religiously and philosophically neutral positions — wiping out claims about when life begins and the like — or claim that abortion is such a big deal that it outweighs even the fundamental principles of democratic inclusion.)

  10. Paul Gowder Says:

    n.b. there are, of course, also some stupid democrats. Like Joe Biden.

  11. Kenny Says:

    On the meaning of the word ‘Evangelical:’ originally, this just meant Protestant. It is generally used today to refer to the members of what church historians call the ‘neo-Evangelical movement’ founded after WWII, primarily by Billy Graham, Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ), and John Stott (an Anglican priest). This movement ORIGINALLY had to do with identifying certain essential claims of historic Christianity – in contradistinction to liberals, who denied most of the claims Christians had historically believed -while at the same time remaining in fellowship/cooperation with those who disagreed on ‘inessential’ claims. This was, at the time, an EXPLICIT REJECTION of the claims of the historical fundamentalist movement, which had separated off from the mainline denominations in the early 20th century. The Evangelicals sought to work WITHIN existing denominations, as John Stott continues to work within the Anglican Church (despite really extreme – in Christian terms – liberalism there) and the Billy Graham Crusades and Campus Crusade for Christ are supported by a wide variety of Protestant churches.

    Campus Crusade’s current statement of faith is a bit long relative to the historical movement (many of them would be shorter and simpler). Generally, the basics are something like

    (1) The Trinity
    (2) The historicity of Jesus, including virgin birth, resurrection, etc.
    (3) A strong (but not necessarily literalistic) view of the authority of Scripture.
    (4) Salvation only by the grace of God through faith in Christ

    You’ll find statements like this in a lot of non-denominational churches (which are a later manifestation of the movement).

    On a personal note, I usually call myself an Evangelical because I believe in the basic premises here, and also in the view that most ‘denominational distinctives’ are silly questions that ought not to divide churches, but, with ever-increasing frequency, I find myself so embarrassed and/or irritated by the absurd conclusions drawn from these premises by my fellow Evangelicals that I find myself looking for an alternative term. Sometimes I say that I hold ‘classically Protestant’ views.

    Today, the neo-Evangelical movement is winding down, partially due to its leaders expending all of their influence on political issues, but also due to a variety of other problems. It is also splintering. You might check out “An Evangelical Manifesto”, but realize that many of the people who are considered top Evangelical leaders either weren’t asked to sign it, or were asked and refused. Splintering.

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