Ignorance is Bliss

I wrote about the sad, and I believe, socially dangerous follies of voters rewarding incompetent, inadequate candidates like Christine O’Donnell as an act of self-glorification/self-recognition here. I used a quote from a Washington Post article where a voter was quoted as saying (emphasis mine):

“‘Christine O’Donnell is just an ordinary citizen, and that’s what I like about her,’” said Greg Gergen, a Wilmington Republican who said he will vote for O’Donnell.”

An eerily similar quote was included in a New York Times recap of O’Donnell’s disastrous debate with Senate candidate, Chris Coons, wherein a 23 year old voter working her way through college remarked that O’Donnell was someone “she could relate to.”  What does it say about the level of narcissism in our society that people like this are so obsessed with self-affirmation and seeing their reflections in candidates?  In this debate Christine O’Donnell referred to herself as a “congressman” while answering a hypothetical question regarding how she’d react to a policy issue if elected.  Besides the obvious fact that she’d be a “congresswoman” if elected to the House; she’d first have to run to serve in the House, not the Senate, which is what she is actually doing.  On a more substantive note, O’Donnell talked nonsensically of America’s battles against the Soviets in Afghanistan and was unable to cite one recent Supreme Court case that she disagreed with.  That she can’t name a recent Supreme Court case might be a cute, ‘non-elitist’ piece of ignorance the aforementioned voter has in common with O’Donnell, thus making her easier to “relate to,” but it makes a mockery out of the concepts and responsibilities of actual governance, while illuminating significant problems in our collective psyche.  In an excellent post on Swampland today, Joe Klein perceptively says that this type of thinking is indicative of “a society that no longer takes itself seriously.”  Strong words, but completely on the mark in this instance.  You see, were “congressman” O’Donnell actually elected to the Senate, on the strength of all the pathetic “I like her because she’s dumb like me” votes, she could potentially get assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee whereupon she’d be tasked with vetting and confirming Supreme Court nominees, and her fantastically photogenic ignorance will no longer be able to mask the fact that she has absolutely zero knowledge to draw upon to enable her to make informed decisions on matters of such crucial importance to millions of Americans.   Acquaintance with recent Supreme Court litigation can no longer be smugly dismissed as abstract elitist fodder when you decide to run for the United States Senate.   O’Donnell has to know this stuff to be taken seriously.  The fact that she doesn’t, explains why she isn’t.  Not thanks to the mean, misogynistic liberal media being too hard on her.  You’d think that O’Donnell would have at least learned from the mistakes of her mentor and had one Supreme Court case at the ready for these tricky, “gotcha” style debate moderators.   The person in the audience comforted by their recognition of ignorance in O’Donnell is not running for Senate, so their ignorance of the court’s docket can be excused because it can’t cause any damage.   O’Donnell’s malignant ignorance of something so important would provoke wide-ranging consequences and cannot be dismissed or rewarded.   I know people hate the concept of “elites” (aka people who have the nerve to actually know stuff about the Supreme Court while running for Senate) but society can’t function without them.  It’s humbling meeting people who are obviously smarter than you.  But when I need a doctor or lawyer, the last thing on earth I want from them is a reflection and/or recognition of my own ignorance so I can feel better about myself.  Why so many Americans require this reflection/recognition from within their politicians nowadays is frightening.    Joe Klein brutally sums up this aspect of O’Donnell’s “appeal” in the post I’d quoted previously:

“There is no way she could ever be confused with a member of the elites; there is no way she could be confused with an above average high school student. Her ignorance, therefore, makes her authentic–the holy grail of latter-day American politics: she’s a real person, not like those phony politicians. In that sense, she–and the lifeboat filled with other Tea Party know-nothings–follow in the wake of our leading exemplar of ignorant authenticity, Sarah Palin”

To O’ Donnell’s credit, she is, at least, smart enough to exploit the sense of recognition many voters see in her ignorance, running, typically subtle, ads that say: “I Am You.”   But again this is symptomatic of a larger decline in our national standards, overall, and as Klein writes “there is something profoundly diseased about a society that idolizes its ignoramuses and disdains its experts.”  The tendency to recognize ignorance as a virtue and reward its dangerously shameless purveyors with access to the highest levers of power in our society is a “disease.” And, long-term, the decay and damage this disease inflicts, if -unchecked, will be more harmful to our national health than anything terrorists anywhere in the world could dream up.   This upside-down conception of ignorance as “authenticity” must be reversed and rejected.



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