Joe Biden says that Mitt Romney has lied about Jeep and outsourcing; Romney intimates that President Obama has lied about Libya. I presume there’s been substantial truth-stretching on both sides and about many issues. Truth-stretching (or lying) relies on the ignorance of voters. There’s plenty of ignorance to go around, which is why truth-stretching works.
Treating voters as ignorant is one thing; treating them as stupid is quite another. You rely on ignorance when you cite “facts” that are hard for people to check — as, for example, when the President presents himself as sympathetic to immigrants and hopes you don’t know about the record number of deportations on his watch. You rely on stupidity when you blithely contradict yourself, hoping nobody will notice. The latter seems far more cynical.
I’m sure both candidates have been guilty of treating voters as both ignorant and stupid, and I called attention to several instances (on both sides) in my commentary on Debates One, Two and Three. But it does seem to me that it’s the President who is banking most heavily on voter stupidity.
A few examples:
- The President, not just in the debates but on the stump, frequently rails that “the government should not dictate the terms of insurance policies” — and then segues directly into singing the praises of Obamacare for — dictating the terms of insurance policies, particularly with regard to mandatory contraceptive coverage. It saddens me no end that a) the President believes there are voters stupid enough to swallow this whole; b) he’s probably right; and c) those voters are capable of swinging the outcome of an election.
- The President, not just in the debates but on the stump, frequently rails against corporate welfare for oil, gas and coal companies, and then segues directly into touting his own policies of corporate welfare for wind and other “alternative” energy companies. Once again, it’s sad to contemplate that there are voters too stupid to to be squeamish about this kind of direct contradiction, and sadder still to think that the President prefers cynically to exploit those voters than to, you know, make a sensible argument.
- The President tells us repeatedly that, in order to send more people to college, all we have to to is lower tuition. Are there voters too stupid to realize that you can’t send more people to college than the colleges have room for?
- The President rails against the Republican “War on Women”, which allegedly seeks to deny women the freedom to choose about this, that or the other thing. He frequently segues directly from this into boasting about the Lily Ledbetter Act, one of the first accomplishments of his administration.
Here’s what the Lily Ledbetter Act effectively does: It denies women the right to accept lower wages in exchange for better working conditions, or to secure a job they might not otherwise be able to get. If a man wants to bring his baby to the office every day, or keep more flexible hours, he’s free to negotiate any arrangement he wants (which is likely to require some flexibility in his wage demands). If a woman wants to do the same, she’s much less likely to succeed, because, in the Lily Ledbetter world, employers are skittish about anything that might look to an obtuse regulator like wage discrimination against women.
Or: If you’re a man about to be laid off, you can try offering to take a 10% wage cut instead. If you’re a woman, thanks to the President’s much-touted Ledbetter bill, you’re unlikely to have that option. Again, employers dare not look like they might be attempting to “pay women less”.
In other words, the Democrats, with the President at their head, launched their own war on women when they passed the Lily Ledbetter act. More specifically, they attenuated the much-worshiped “woman’s right to choose” concerning conditions in the workplace. Touting that while denouncing a supposed Republican war on women is another instance of playing to voters’ stupidity.
It’s sometimes said that one difference between ignorance and stupidity is that ignorance is fixable. But more often, the opposite is true. There is much to know, and little time to learn, so we’re all doomed to be ignorant about most things, no matter how hard we try not to be. This inevitably makes us vulnerable to candidates who lie about facts, and there’s not much we can do about that.
But fixing stupidity often requires little more than a moment of reflection. When politicians ask us to believe two contradictory things at once, it doesn’t take any specialized knowledge to know that they’re insulting our intelligence.