We’ve become a nation beholden to idiots and it’s about time we do something about it. America has a long and cherished history of anti-intellectualism. Sarah Palin’s exhortation to ‘Mama Grizzlies’ is not all that different from Davey Crockett’s folksy speeches made on the floor of Congress when he was a U.S. Representative. And both left office to pursue book deals.
The similarity ends there, however. Where Crockett’s earthy likability worked in the service of liberty and personal justice for minorities (he supported squatters rights, opposed Indian removal policies), our new national class of Dumb-Dumbs are pushing an incendiary nativism that has to be stopped. They represent a direct threat to democracy, security and personal freedom. In the past year, it’s become clear that the choice is not between left and right, but stupidity and knowledge. It’s time to decide which side you’re on.
Consider these late developments: The national conversation at the moment is over whether a church has a right to worship where it wants to worship. There’s semi-serious talk about repealing the 14th Amendment. The Republican Senate candidate in Nevada thinks the Department of Education should be abolished and has suggested that voters should take up arms if they don’t get the results they like.
What’s most damning is not that crazy people are saying crazy things, but that intelligent people are taking them seriously. There will always be whack-jobs who will think that taking away religious freedom or the right to vote is a good idea. You will always be able to find some lizard hiding under a rock who advocates the wholesale destruction of the government by revolution. The cost of doing business in a democracy that values plurality and individual freedom is that the village idiot can say whatever he or she likes.
If you want to be ignorant, go ahead. If you want to believe that Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim socialist hellbent on forcing you into a gay marriage with a federally-funded deathbot, go for it! But don’t expect me to take you seriously.
Yet, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Both in the media and in the halls of power, the inmates, if not running the asylum, are setting the agenda. John Adams said that “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people” and yet those charged with informing the public have failed.
Never mind that the idea of a politician weighing in on where a church should go is anathema to the very reason for our country’s existence. Never mind that those who oppose gay marriage can offer up no reason for their opposition other than bigotry. Never mind that a civil war was fought to secure the rights guaranteed in the 14th Amendment. Truth is being tossed aside for ratings and the end result is a slow legitimization of the idiotic.
The reason for this is cowardice. Our society has come to believe that any viewpoint is a legitimate viewpoint, so long as there’s someone out there to espouse it. While this might make for good jokes on The Colbert Report, it’s actually a greater threat to America than terrorism or drugs or any of the other causes we have decided to ‘declare war’ on. Which is why I am suggesting that America ought to collectively declare war on stupidity. If we are to wage an ideological battle against a concept, let it be against Stupidity.
The right to hold an opinion carries with it the responsibility to defend it. If you believe Obama was born in Kenya, prove it. If you can’t, you and your defenseless opinion don’t deserve a place in the national discourse. Just as we don’t invite the KKK to debate whether blacks and whites should be married, why should we give homophobes a platform to promote a fundamentally and empirically indefensible viewpoint? When Sharon Angle suggests the violent overthrow of the government, someone ought to speak up, not in a tone of ironic snickering, but in indignant rage.
In dialing back his comments on the Cordoba House, in his refusal to comment on gay marriage, in his failure to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Obama has failed to ‘uphold and defend’ the Constitution. In framing the debate over these issues in terms of how it will affect the November elections, the press has failed in its duty to inform the people. You can’t blame the ignorant for their ignorance, but we ought to condemn those who know better when they keep quiet simply because it is politically expedient or profitable to do so.
Weirdly, my new hero is Ted Olson, George W.’s Solicitor General who not only successfully argued that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional, but also told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, on the issue of the ‘Ground Zero mosque’:
“We don’t want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith. And I don’t think it should be a political issue. It shouldn’t be a Republican or Democratic issue, either.”
Watch the clip here:
It’s probably worth noting that Olson lost his wife on 9/11. There are important debates to be had in this country. We have enormous challenges facing us, not only now, but in the near future. The choice we must make is a stark one: Do we ignore the dangers by indulging the ignorant fear-mongers or do we come to the defense of the fundamental rights and institutions that have made this country not only successful, but a model for the rest of the world as we move into a new and challenging century?
How we answer that question in the next few years will decide the fate of this country– and the world — for a long time to come.
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