Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Politicals Enemies are Idiots!

I watched the BloggingHeads video about Sarah Palin's new book, and loved hearing Michelle Goldberg compare Obama's 'Dreams of My Father' to Tolstoy, whereas Palin's book is like the teen lit hit 'Twighlight'.

Liberals hate IQ but love to assert that conservatives are stupid. In any case, all this hullabaloo about Sarah Palin I find rather amusing. She, like most politicians, is not that bright. I would estimate an IQ about 115, your average college kid. But most high power pundits are 125, and hate it when successful politicians are less intelligent than they are out of envy. Thus, the kid who asked Dan Quayle how to spell potato was asked to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, as if to highlight how knowing how to spell potato proves one smart enough to run the country (but then, what about literacy tests for voters?).

Of course, they hate people with really high IQs too, because these smarter people are often too socially obtuse to pretend the David Brooks and Thom Friedmans have anything interesting to contribute (e.g., Donald Rumsfeld). Thus, the most famous people at any time are the Katie Courics, Oprahs, and Matt Lauers, people who are slightly above average but most of all, agreeable and deferential to self-appointed intellectuals. The criticism that Sarah Palin is stupid I find absurd because 1) she's merely slightly above average, as are most popular people and 2) almost all politicians are as smart/dumb as she is. Consider Harry Reid, Maxine Waters, Dennis Kucinich, none of whom is smart, they blurt out unthinking trope like trained monkeys, and none more intelligent than Charles Barkley.

It reminds me of when Hyman Minsky would go off on John F. Kennedy, noting that he was often presented as genius because he went to Harvard. Kennedy was a below average student at a time when Harvard had a lot of dopey legacies, and Minsky the Liberal was too independent to pretend he was some sort of genius.

I consider politicians mostly narcissistic, smarmy, and unthinking. Those accidentally glommed onto my general disposition towards Friedmanism, I'm for. Ronald Reagan was often called an idiot while in office, but was a good politician because he changed the trend through his steadfast defense of smaller government. He wasn't a Richard Feynman, but he was consistent, and a good communicator.

My old boss Jerry Jordan (a member of the Council of Economic Advisors and Cleveland Fed President) told me about a cabinet meeting the Gipper was in where someone said we should raise quotas against country I because they have quotas against us. Reagan responded, "so if they shoot a hole in their life raft, we should too?" That dismissed some marginal trade retaliation. Having this kind of common sense in the top position, whatever the origination, is something to be thankful for.

Most pundits, professional and amateur, consider a genius as someone who can articulate one's platform more effectively than themself. An idiot is someone who effectively articulates the other side.


Michael Meyers said...


Good post.... I'm constantly amazed at how much Palin is hated on the left. I've not been able to figure it out. It seems to me that she represents something they fear, hate, or resent... spooky in a way.


Zubin said...

what's your IQ eric?

Eric Falkenstein said...

I'm an average Econ Phd from Northwestern. I'll leave it at that.

But What do I Know? said...

We don't necessarily need smart (as in IQ) people in politics--we need honest people--and I don't mean honest with the public (because they wouldn't be successful politicians if they were) but honest with themselves about their motivations and the consequences of their actions.

My problem with Palin is that her politics is just a form of attention-seeking and a further manifestation of the cult of celebrity. She seems to stand for nothing outside of self-aggrandizement to me--an Alcibiades, if you will. But then again, I feel the same way about Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, George Bush II. . .

John Cook said...

I like the way you describe 125 IQs looking down on 115 IQs and resenting 135 IQs. That puts it in perspective. I work with a lot of very intelligent, highly educated people and I find it amusing when someone will call a colleague an idiot.

Reminds me of the George Carlin quote "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"

Anonymous said...

Palin is a polarizing figure. A certain segment of the population is absolutely devoted to her -- she's an ordinary person fighting against entrenched insiders with moxie. A larger segment of the population thinks it's crazy she's gone anywhere near the Presidency ("What newspapers do you read? All of them.") These reactions feed off of each other, and you end up with a self-reinforcing cycle of astonished disbelief and populist resentment.

In his books Obama comes across as a thoughtful person who tries to think carefully about opposing points of view. (For a radical Muslim socialist, he's portrayed Ronald Reagan in a positive light surprisingly often.) In her book Palin comes across as someone who's being oppressed at every turn; the liberal media (Katie Couric) and the McCain campaign conspire to hold her down and make her look bad. Maybe IQ is not the right way to look at this but there is a real difference here. The two politicians have different approaches to building up their appeal and I really see nothing of value in Palin's.

Kieran McCarthy said...

The proper expression is "none of whom is smart," rather than "none of whom are smart." Guess that's why you're not teaching at Harvard.

tesla said...

Kieran- that was a nice cheap-shot.

One of the things that always used to puzzle me is how two equally intelligent people can have completely divergent opinions about the same event (especially w.r.t. politics). Over the years I've concluded that people don't filter their beliefs on the basis of information; rather they filter information on the basis of their beliefs. The vast majority of information that conflicts with an individual's beliefs is labeled as suspicious and not to be trusted. I wish I could say that I'm different from the masses but I'm not at all.

Anonymous said...

I think the offensive thing about Palin is not her IQ but her provincialism, ignorance, and lack of common sense. I think in these senses she is basically the polar opposite of Ronald Reagan.

And can you seriously listen to her talk? I thought W was bad.

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Anonymous said...

123, is that in the nature of "great little blog you got there. Be a shame if something happened to it."?

Tesla, that's pretty much right. Especially in politics we look for information that verifies our preexisting bias. Not that big a deal really, it's always been that way. Of course, I still think Palin is a dope, and have plenty of filtered evidence to support my view.

Unknown said...


I've only been reading you sporadically for a month or so but, man, you've had some good posts in that time.


I think that people resort to bias on questions where the truth is actually unknown. We create mental models of the world that seek to explain all kinds of phenomena, but it's often difficult or impossible to know for sure whether the model is accurate (due to a lack of sufficient data).

So I wonder whether people with high IQs are more likely to develop accurate mental models of the world, or as Eric suggested in a previous post, they're just more likely to have creative and interesting mental models and that the models might actually be LESS likely to be accurate because they don't have the aggregated wisdom of the ages (read: convention) included in them.

Printfaster said...

Dan Quayle was reading potatoe from a card that the "intelligent" teacher handed him. Besides potatoe is a legal alternate spelling.

Still, note that GW had significantly higher SATs than Gore, but somehow GW was stupid and Gore won the Nobel prize.

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Vic said...

Wow, this is the first time I disagree with you since I started reading your blog in the summer :)

"An idiot is someone who effectively articulates the other side." - do you think she effectively articulates the other side?

Eric Falkenstein said...

omonra21: she motivates a large number of people, and in that way she is effective.

Many people I find inarticulate and confused, such as Maxine Waters, are effective. People like Al Franken I find articulate and not confused, and also effective (just wrong, in my opinion). I think most people, being partisans, would not distinguish between the true 'idiots' on the other side (which exist on every side), and those who are smart but wrong.

onionfutures said...

If she really had an IQ of 115, why would she lie about things people can easily research? She has the IQ of a 15 year old girl.

dsquared said...

I'm constantly amazed at how much Palin is hated on the left. I've not been able to figure it out

could it be because she intentionally provokes them, all the time? might that be it?

For my part, I just can't fathom how it is that Floyd Mayweather gets into all those fistfights.

Anonymous said...

Forget whether Palin is on the right or left. The issue is how she frames her positions and the opponents.
Ronald Reagan presented his positions with a smile, a story, and an attitude that we both want the same thing ... but I'm looking at it a little different than you. And he carried the center. And worked with Tip O'neil to get stuff done.
Sarah Palin has derision and a sneer for those who disagree with her ... and it is reciprocated. her approach is angry. Not only does she assume no good intent among those that disagree with her, she dismisses them as un-american.