Monday, August 22, 2005

Common Sense vs. Uncommon Stupidity

The intuitive tools we generally call "common sense" are some of the most overrated in the cognitive toolbox. Very often when someone exhorts listeners or readers to use common sense he is actually asking them to abstain from thinking things through carefully. This sort of trick is a staple among radio personalities, with Rush Limbaugh as its greatest exemplar.

Common sense, however, is sometimes the only defense against uncommon stupidity. So it is with George Allen's latest foray into international news analysis in which he contends that the problem of elements of the fledgling Iraqi police forces forming themselves into death squads is not unlike the jurisdictional squabbles frequently encountered by law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

Now, it's not that difficult, if you want to spend the time, to explain why this makes no sense. But to even engage Allen on a point this stupid is in a sense to fall into the weird Republican trap that seems to spring on the Democrats on so many issues. It is this tactic that makes George W. Bush the perfect leader for the modern GOP.

It works like this.

1) A Republican leader says something howlingly stupid.
2) Democratic leaders publicly refute the stupid Republican statement.
3) Media reporting on the matter is organized around the idea of a struggle between two opposing points of view, with only veiled mention of the fact that one of the points of view is not held by any remotely reasonable person.

This is the "Opinions Differ on Shape of Earth" phenomenon and the Dems have to stop falling for it. When a Republican like Allen says something mind-numbingly stupid, the only Democratic response should be "Can you believe how stupid this guy is?" Do you want people like this leading our country who are such idiots?"

Now any die-hard Allen fans are going to be offended by this, and eventually they will get churned into a frenzy by thir favorite radio hosts, decrying the Democratic leadership's stereotyping of Southerners or however the hell they want to spin the fact that the Democrats are pointing out that George Allen is, in fact, extremely stupid. But such people cannot be reached, certainly not through reasoned discourse.

DISCLAIMER - what Democrats SHOULD avoid is the temptation to throw in "tobacco-spittin', boots-wearin'" type slurs into their descriptions of transcendentally stupid politicians like Allen . The idea that Allen is country is, first of all, something of a PR affectation, and second of all, irrelevant to the fact that Allen is an idiot. There are a lot of idiots who spit tobacco, just as there are a lot of idiots who wear leather elbow patches and teach classics. No liberal would feel the need to throw "grey-bearded" "bespectacled" or any similar trait into a denunciation of a stupid person who also happened to display those characteristics.

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