There was a remarkable exchange on the MSNBC show Hardball yesterday, between host Chris Matthews, and commentators Roger Simon and Chris Cillizza:
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, isn’t it funny, Roger–and I love the way you cover politics. You get the richness of it. You have fish fry dinners with Jesse Jackson in the middle of the night and write about it. Here we are with a president–who most people who are honest about it would say came to the office pretty much unprepared to deal with the third world.
He listened to a bunch of jughead neoconservatives who talked him into a war that doesn’t quite make sense now, and most people say he’s not a bad guy. He just was totally naive and unprepared for the ideologically and tribal mess we’re in over there now right now.
So now we go looking for the freshest faces we can find to replace him. Are we crazy? Why don’t we look for the long-headed guys, the Jim Bakers and the Hamiltons to do it?
SIMON: Well, for one reason, Americans distrust people who are too smart. Remember, Adlai Stephenson ran into this problem. If you seem too intelligent–Dukakis had this problem.
MATTHEWS: Are you serious?
SIMON: Some people thought Kerry was too ethereal.
MATTHEWS: Bill Clinton has an I.Q. of 170 or something. What are you talking about?
SIMON: We want it both ways. Clinton was smart enough to hide his intelligence. He ran as a good old boy, the boy from Hope. He ran as a nice guy that you want to live next to.
MATTHEWS: So we don’t want the guy like Al Gore who looks like he actually reads “Foreign Policy” magazine?
SIMON: Well, that was a problem, remember, when Bush went head-to-head with Gore.
SIMON: Yes, I mean, the American people did, in fact, choose Gore by the popular vote. We learned how important that was.
MATTHEWS: Are we going to keep, Chris, looking for the most popular kid in class or the smartest kid in class?
CILLIZZA: Well, I think it’s a stylistic thing more than it is sort of what your I.Q. is. I mean, I think the reality was that Al Gore was perceived by many people as pedantic, that he was telling you why you should vote for him, and the main reason was he knew more than you. You know, I think people–it’s not so much you don’t want…
MATTHEWS: That wasn’t Bush’s strategy.
CILLIZZA: I don’t think people don’t want to elect smart people. I think they don’t want is to have someone else’s intelligence thrust into their face and said you should vote for me because of that.
That bold-faced remark was said with a laugh.
I think Simon has it exactly right. Politically, it’s fine to be smart. Just don’t look smart.
The even more annoying fact about American politics is that studipity and ignorance are not disqualifications. That Bush was thoroughly unprepared to be President was obvious in 2000. That didn’t stop the press from portraying him as a down-to-Earth everyman, in contrast to Gore’s pompous windbaggery.