October 14, 2004

I heard that an associate thought I was wrong to say that people who haven't yet made up their minds about the presidential election are stupid. Since he's a bright guy I decided I ought to rethink my position to see if I did, indeed, step over the line.

Because "stupid" is an insulting word, he has presupposition in his favor from the start. It's not wise to be insulting -- usually. But, might there be occasions when the general rule doesn't apply? I think there can be, especially when we're dealing with issues that have the potential to rip the social fabric. It has seemed to me that playing up to people who claim uncertainty in the face of clear distinction is one of them.  It degrades public discourse. And intelligent public discourse is, among all our needs, probably the greatest.

It has been my position -- and still is, even with rethinking -- that if we establish the political stupidity of people who fail to decide in the face of the most clear-cut evidence possible, then fewer people will want to claim that status. And if political operatives conclude there's no significant number of such people available to be manipulated then political arguments will have to be addressed to an electorate presumed to be knowledgeable. And, that's what I want -- a political process which speaks to the best informed people rather than to the least.

You'll notice that I'm talking about political stupidity. I hope that's understood about everything I say here today. I'm aware that there are people who are quite intelligent about making shoes, and filling out financial forms, and, even, writing poems and novels, who have not a clue about the nature of politics. When I run the risk -- and even commit the vulgarity -- of talking about political stupidity, I'm doing it in the interest of promoting political intelligence. And what do I mean by that? I mean knowing, actually, what various candidates support and being aware of who will gain and who will lose if they get their way. It is only when that knowledge is widespread throughout a culture that we can say democracy is taking place. An ignorant democracy is no democracy at all.

One of the safeguards true democracy is supposed to deliver is protection against radically malignant political systems. Most of the time we roll along with sets of candidates who are all acceptable and who all have some goods to offer along with the drawbacks they bring. But, occasionally, history presents us with a situation in which a power block offers nothing good but, rather, functions only to push us towards deep danger. I'm afraid we may be in one of those situations now. That's why I think we need to step outside the ordinary rules of politeness.

So, after understanding my associate's warning and respecting the general sensibility from which it comes, I'm still willing to say that people who don't yet know what they think about the two men now contending for the presidency are political blockheads.

©John R. Turner

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