In the last of three excerpts from his book, Makers and Takers, author Peter Schweizer attacks the myth of ignorant conservatives and enlightened liberals (read previous excerpts):
During the 2000 election, George W. Bush was often given the moniker “stupid.” A Boston television reporter tripped him up with a “pop quiz,” asking him the names of foreign leaders. At the same time, his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, was presented as the consummate intellectual. He went out of his way to drop phrases like “Cartesian revolution” and used complex metaphors like “the clockwork universe” in his speeches.
Indeed, Gore seemed obsessed with proving how smart he was — and the media was his willing accomplice. The media reported at least a dozen times that Gore was “the smartest kid in the class.” Bloomberg News observed that Gore had little patience for those “a few IQ points short of genius.” The New York Times asked (in all seriousness), “Is Gore too smart to be president?” His biggest challenge, the paper explained, was “to show that he is a regular guy despite a perceived surplus of gravitas, which at least some Americans seem to find intimidating.” This liberal assumption that a candidate can be just too darn smart to win a presidential election in this country goes back to Adlai Stevenson.
What proof was there of Gore’s alleged gravitas? How exactly did the media know that Gore was so smart and Bush so dumb? In fact, the record did not indicate any of this was true. It was often alleged, probably with reason, that Bush only got into Yale because his father had gone there and his grandfather had been a Connecticut senator. Yet Gore, with high school Bs and Cs (his only As were in art), got into Harvard in part because (like other politicians’ sons, including a raft of Kennedys) his father was a famous senator. At Harvard, Gore’s grades did not improve. In his sophomore year he earned a D, a C-minus, two Cs, two C-pluses and one B-minus. He was in the bottom fifth of his class his first two years in school. Later he flunked out of divinity school (failing five of his eight classes) and dropped out of Vanderbilt University Law School. Gore was once asked (after having served in the U.S. Senate for several years) to name his favourite president. “President Knox,” he replied.
Senator John Kerry, when he ran against George W. Bush in 2004, was likewise heralded as an intellectual in contrast to the ill-informed Bush. It started in 1999, when Kerry “questioned Mr. Bush’s intelligence,” as The New York Times put it.
“All over this country people are asking whether or not George Bush is smart enough to be president of the United States,” Kerry said. During the 2004 campaign he continued with that theme, supported by the Democratic Party, liberal commentators and the mainstream news media. Howell Raines, former executive editor of The New York Times, explained during the election that it was quite obvious that Bush was a dim bulb in contrast to Kerry: “Does anyone in America doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush? I’m sure the candidates’ SATs and college transcripts would put Kerry far ahead.”
Fact checking was apparently not necessary for Raines. Though at the time, of course, no one could actually check because Kerry kept refusing to release his transcripts from Yale, or any information about intelligence tests that he would have taken as a Navy officer. Bush had taken the equivalent Air Force Qualifying Test, and they would have made a good point of comparison. But the results were not, Kerry said, “relevant” to the campaign, even though his campaign was based in part on Bush’s lack of intelligence. (A similar excuse was made in regard to Kerry’s military records, though his campaign was largely based on his claim to have been a hero in Vietnam — before he became an outspoken critic of the war. In other words, he was for the war before he was against it.)
Then a Navy veteran named Sam Sewell noticed something on the Kerry campaign Web site. In one of the documents posted on the Web page, an obscure military report offered a cryptic score that was actually the result of an IQ-like qualifying test Kerry had taken in 1966. As it happened, George W. Bush had taken the same test just a few years later. Columnist Steve Sailer determined that Bush’s score put him in the 95th percentile, giving him an IQ in the 120s. Kerry’s score was slightly lower, putting him in the 91st percentile.
When these results became public, NBC’s Tom Brokaw asked Kerry about them. He was more than a bit peeved. Kerry dodged the question and wondered out loud how they became public in the first place. “I don’t know how they’ve done it, because my record is not public,” he told Brokaw. “So I don’t know where you’re getting that from.” A few days later, on the Don Imus show, Brokaw revealed just how much it had bugged Kerry that he had been beaten by Bush on the IQ test. After the cameras stopped rolling, Brokaw recalled, Kerry explained, “I must have been drinking the night before I took that military aptitude test.”
After Bush won re-election, it became clear why Kerry hadn’t wanted to release his college records. The Boston Globe discovered that Bush actually had higher grades at Yale and also had higher SAT scores. (Bush’s scores were also higher than those of Senator Bill Bradley, another liberal often described as learned and brilliant.)
But the “conservatives are dunces” mantra goes well beyond George W. Bush. Liberals take it for granted — literally — that Democratic presidents are brighter than Republicans. Ronald Reagan was famously called an “amiable dunce” by Clark Clifford, an opinion widely shared among the Georgetown social set. Doonesbury creator (and former Yalie) Garry Trudeau even wrote a play about what an ignoramus Reagan was. President George H.W. Bush, despite having graduated from Yale in two and a half years, was likewise dismissed as a buffoon.
In 2001, the Lovenstein Institute released a report claiming scientific proof that liberal presidents were more intelligent than their Republican counterparts. In a press release, the institute claimed that Bill Clinton had an Einstein-like IQ of 182, followed closely by Jimmy Carter and JFK. The Republicans? George H.W. Bush might have been Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, but his IQ was a below-average 98. Lower still were those dunces, Eisenhower and Reagan. George W. Bush (with degrees from Yale and Harvard) was borderline retarded. His IQ was said to be 91 — literally half that of Clinton’s.
A few months later, another study emerged demonstrating that the average IQ of states that had voted for Gore was much higher than those that went for Bush. Connecticut was given an average IQ of 113, while conservative Utah scored an 87. (Again, barely above retarded.) According to these numbers, the 16 smartest states all went for Kerry, while the 26 dumbest went for Bush.
These sensational findings seemingly confirmed what many in the media already believed. Trudeau ran a Doonesbury strip about it. The Economist magazine, the St. Petersburg Times, London’s Daily Mirror, radio talk show hosts and liberal bloggers eagerly ran with the story. Urbandude.com typified the liberal attitude when he smugly noted, “I’ve got a Mensa certified IQ of 132.” But apparently he wasn’t smart enough: Both studies were complete fictions. (“Alas, we were victims of a hoax,” admitted The Economist. “No such data exists.”)
The curious thing is how easily these findings were accepted by some in the media. Imagine if someone had published a report claiming that conservatives had much higher IQs than liberals. Would newspapers and commentators run such a story uncritically? To the contrary, they would likely first check on the results and subject the findings to serious scrutiny. In short, the bias in favour of “smart liberals” seems widely accepted in our society.
Popular culture has greatly contributed to the myth of ignorant conservatives and enlightened liberals. One study by a group of academics found that by examining 124 characters in 47 popular political films spanning five decades, liberals were routinely depicted as “more intelligent, friendly and good” than conservatives.
The arrogance of some liberals in this regard is astonishing. You don’t even have to be highly educated yourself to complain about how uneducated conservatives are. Michael Moore, college dropout, travels all over Europe talking about how “idiotic and uneducated” conservatives are. He also said: “Once you settle for a Ronald Reagan, then it’s easy to settle for a George Bush, and once you settle for a George Bush, then it’s real easy to settle for Bush II. You know, this should be evolution, instead it’s devolution. What’s next?”
Professor Bruce Fleming, a self-professed liberal, explains this liberal attitude perfectly. “All of us are ignorant of many things. It’s just that the liberal here thinks he knows what the conservative is ignorant of.”
This sublime confidence in their own superiority leads to a closed-minded insistence that liberals know what is right. Scholars at Stanford, the University of Illinois and Williams conducted four studies on the subject of “asymmetric insight.” Basically, this is the notion that some people claim to know more than others.
Surveys were conducted with hundreds of students. Among their findings: Liberals are much more likely to believe that their knowledge of conservatives and their arguments surpasses that of conservatives themselves. The results were similar when it came to the abortion issue. Abortion rights advocates claimed to have greater knowledge and insight than those who are pro-life.
• From the book Makers and Takers by Peter Schweizer, published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2008 by Peter Schweizer
Photo: I'm with stupid? In the 2000 election, the media painted George W. Bush as stupid and his rival Al Gore as nothing short of a genius. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)