Unteachability

I really am hoping that Mitt Romney wins the election this November, not only because it would nice to have a competent president for a change, but also because I am really looking forward to the Democrats’ reaction to an Obama defeat. I am sure that they will be mature about it, knowing that it is only one election and they have a chance to win next time.

Or maybe not.

It will be fun to read their excuses. When liberals lose elections, which they usually do unless they lie about their beliefs, it is never because their ideas or candidates are bad ones. This year, no doubt, racism will be cited if Obama is defeated. Never mind that millions of those same racist whites put him into office just four years ago. Or, it will be because the Democrats were outspent by the evil Koch brothers.

I am looking forward to reading articles about the unteachable ignorance of the red states, such as the one written by novelist Jane Smiley after Bush’s victory in 2004. She has discovered the reasons Democrats have fared badly in the red states. The people who live in them are simply too ignorant to know what is good for them.

I say forget introspection. It’s time to be honest about our antagonists. My predecessorsin this conversationare thoughtful men, and I honor their ideas, but let’s try something else. I grew up in Missouri and most of my family voted for Bush, * so I am going to be the one to say it: The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry. I suppose the good news is that 55 million Americans have evaded the ignorance-inducing machine. But 58 million have not. (Well, almost 58 million—my relatives are not ignorant, they are just greedy and full of classic Republican feelings of superiority.)

Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states. There used to be a kind of hand-to-hand fight on the frontier called a “knock-down-drag-out,” where any kind of gouging, biting, or maiming was considered fair. The ancestors of today’s red-state voters used to stand around cheering and betting on these fights. When the forces of red and blue encountered one another head-on for the first time in Kansas Territory in 1856, the red forces from Missouri, who had been coveting Indian land across the Missouri River since 1820, entered Kansas and stole the territorial election. The red news media of the day made a practice of inflammatory lying—declaring that the blue folks had shot and killed red folks whom everyone knew were walking around. The worst civilian massacre in American history took place in Lawrence, Kan., in 1863—Quantrill’s raid. The red forces, known then as the slave-power, pulled between 150 and 200 unarmed men from their beds on a Sunday morning and slaughtered them, many in front of their wives and children. * The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America. Listen to what the red state citizens say about themselves, the songs they write, and the sermons they flock to. They know who they are—they are full of original sin and they have a taste for violence. The blue state citizens make the Rousseauvian mistake of thinking humans are essentially good, and so they never realize when they are about to be slugged from behind.

She goes on and on like that and it is not worth the trouble of quoting any more. Go ahead and read the whole thing if you want to know what Progressives think of us in flyover country.

I wonder if Ms. Smiley changed her opinion when millions of those ignorant red staters helped to elect Barack Obama. I don’t imagine she has anything good to say about the Tea Party movement. I am sure that if Obama loses the coming election we will all be treated to even more vicious commentary about how ignorant, racist and unteachable we are for just not seeing that Obama is the most wonderful president ever.

It occurs to me that while this attitude might be very emotionally satisfying, it is not especially useful. Leaving aside the question whether it might be wise to insult large numbers of potential voters, if you simply assume that people are ignorant, you are not asking the important question why your party lost an election and how it can do better in future elections. After the Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006 and lost the presidential election in 2008, I do not recall any Conservative commentator blaming the voters for their unteachable ignorance. There might have been some talk along those lines, but I never heard any and I don’t think such attitudes were very common. Rather, much of the discussion within the Republican Party and the Conservative movement was how to present their ideas better, get better candidates, and limit the damage caused by one of the most inexperienced men ever to sit in the Oval Office. I wouldn’t want to make a generalized judgement that Conservatives are more mature and practical than Liberals, but that seems to be true in many cases.

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