My one time friend Robert Church, the artist, would carry 48 cents in his pocket wherever he went: A quarter, a dime, and the rest in nickles and pennies. Then, when some moran would complain about the NEH … this was the days of the Maplethorp maneno … he would pull the 48 cents out of his pocket and hand it to them, (or if appropriate, toss it on a table, counter, bar, floor, whatever) and say “Here’s your forty-eight cents back. That’s how much came out of your paycheck last year as the US government contribution to the arts via the National Endowment of the Humanities,” or words to that effect.

This is because people are stoopid. And it might not have been exactly 48 cents every year, it varied. But most people during the Maplethorp anti-art push, organized by the right (as in wrong) wing, assumed that hundreds of dollars, or at least dozens of dollars, of their own money went to fund photographs of gay men. Doing things, sometimes. In truth, of the 48 cents (or whatever) only a fraction of a penny would have funded the famous Mapelethorp exhibit. Several pennies probably funded Wrapping Shit in American Flags exhibits, because the people at the NEH are not stupid.

A few days ago a polling expert on TV noted this: If you ask people if they support “Government Workers Rights” 48 percent of Americans say yes, a majority oppose. If you ask people if they support “Public Employee’s Rights” 60 percent of Americans say yes, a minority oppose. “Government workers” and “Public Employees” are synonyms. Synonyms are two words or terms that mean the same thing. Same. Thing.

Rachel Maddow had an even more spectacular example of this the other day though I did not see it live because Comcast removed MSNBC from my Television and raised my rates. I found it on the Internet.

You already know that about half of Americans claim to be Republicans, Teabaggers, Libertarians, etc. etc. and support the policies of misanthropes like John Boner, Sarah Palin or Michele “Can’t Spell My Name” Bachmann. John Boner, Saraha Palin and Michele Bachmann want to continue tax cuts given by George Bush to millionaires. They want to keep all the Bush tax cuts. They want to maintain oil and gas tax breaks and subsidies to the oil companies, and they want to end public employee bargaining.

These are not small issues side issues of the kind that don’t define a party or political movement. No. These are the defining issues of the day. These are large issues, and together with a similar sized list of social issues (on abortion, homosexuality, evolution, etc.) constitute THE issues that separate the current cadre of American politicians into the two main categories of Red and Blue, along with the voters that claim to support, or at least agree with, them. About half the voters support candidates with these policies, cheer at rallies if the candidates mention these things, and otherwise show strong enthusiasm for these Republican positions.

But then you can ask these voters what they think about these issues independently of any indication of what party or candidate supports them and you get an entirely different result:


Foreign aid is like this too, and always has been. It’s an old trick. Its like when I’m not getting any bites so I put on a small yellow spinner bait with a pickled minnow and cast off the dock with the light tackle when the wind has been blowing for a while form the north. I. Will. Catch. A. Perch. Can’t miss. If you are a journalist and you want to have a little fun poking at the Morans, just ask them about foreign aid.

Like this:

Congress is considering changing the amount of Foreign Aid the US provides to other countries. What do you think the budget for foreign aid should be, as a percentage of our overall budget?

A: 25%

B: 15%

C: 10%

They always pick C without flinching. You can ask them this question in some other way, open-endedly if you like, and you’ll get the same basic result. The average right wing American thinks our foreign aid budget is about 25% and they want it reduced to about 10%.

It is actually much closer to 1%. (Hat tip: Jamie Jones for the CSM piece)

Of industrialized nations, Americans have the lowest average IQ. There is an international test for math that has been used to sample students around the world, and the average score for US high school students is way low. Americans score horribly on scientific literacy tests and, famously, geography. It is said that more than ten percent of Americans do not know that the Earth goes around the Sun, rather than the Sun going around the earth. Is this because of religion? Maybe, but it is also true that an even greater percentage of Americans, including piles of Christians, do not know that Genesis is in point of fact the first book of The Bible.

The stupidity of Americans is not in dispute. And it may not be that important. What is important, however, is that the press should not really allow the politicians to get away with exploiting this. All reporters should do what Rachel Maddow did (see above in case you forgot). When 65% of Americans oppose some new bill that will give 80% of Americans what they want, this should be mentioned. More than mentioned. It should be the main point of the main news story on that issue. And a strong secondary background story should be about the politicians who are pretending that their supporters are not idiots.

You can write a letter to an editor about this, you know.



  1. #1 Martin
    March 8, 2011

    Maybe, but it is also true that an even greater percentage of Americans, including piles of Christians, do not know that Genesis is not the first book of The Bible.

    According to whose canon is Genesis/Bereshit not the first book of the Bible/Torah?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    March 8, 2011

    not not.

  3. #3 Rich Wilson
    March 8, 2011

    There was a piece on NPR about the Planned Parenthood cut. The person for the cuts at one point said we need to cut spending, and at another said the money would still go to help the poor, just not via an agency that ’embraces’ abortions. It was in interesting wiggle.

  4. #4 Rob Jase
    March 8, 2011

    Oh yeah?

    (I borrowed that from a tea partier who considered it clever)

  5. #5 Richard
    March 8, 2011

    Rachel Maddow had an even more spectacular example of this the other day though I did not see it live because Comcast removed MSNBC from my Television and raised my rates. I found it on the Internet.

    Link? I’d love to see the video itself.

  6. #6 Lorax
    March 8, 2011

    @Martin I did a double take with that one too. But the extra negative (not) gives the old classic double negative, which means the sentence isn’t saying what our brains want it to say.

  7. #7 Richard
    March 8, 2011

    Found it:

    She makes some good points that I’ve always believed from my own anecdotal evidence: Most Americans consider ourselves “conservative” but what economic policies we really believe in are far more in line with Democratic policies and populism.

  8. #8 Mike Haubrich
    March 8, 2011

    I think that this is not only a failure of the media, it is a failure of the Democratic Communication Machine. It simply does not exist in the way that the Republicans’ does. The internet comment sections of mainstream media are the targets of an orchestrated machine to make sure that the comments that express an anti-liberal point of view outnumber in swarms the ones that express a normal point of view. I smell an astro-turf internet.

    If the Democrats can’t get their message out, that their platforms represent normal America, then it really shouldn’t surprise them that they keep losing elections, that people think they hate Democrats.

    I also blame a president who is standoffish when it comes to putting out message. He assumes that the American people are smart enough to figure things out for ourselves.

  9. #9 Paladin
    March 9, 2011

    A long time ago i’ve learned that all people are stupid, including me. True, some are less stupid than others, but especially in large numbers, the stupidity is staggering. “None of us is as dumb as all of us.”

    What is amazing and disturbing about, well, American culture (but slowly seeping in others, as other aspects of your culture), is the attitude “Stupid and proud of it”. Not the fact that somebody is stupid, we all are at some point about something, but the fact that some persons laugh when they are informed of that, put their hands on their ears and yell “Can’t hear you, lalala!” or “Somebody’s got to stand up to the experts.”

    I think the media’s “he said she said” and the shows that glorify idiots are responsible for this attitude.

  10. #10 Deen
    March 9, 2011

    @Mike Haubrich: you’re absolutely right. Although one could argue that the Democrats have already missed that boat. By now, anything that the Democrats say will be spinned as “propaganda” by the usual suspects. Even some on the center-left appear to have internalized this meme, judging by all the complaints that MSNBC is supposedly becoming some sort of left-wing Fox.

    On the other hand, that also suggests that you can’t blame everything on the Democratic politcians, or on the media. It appears there is a serious difference in attitude between the supporters on the left and right too.

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