October 17, 2002
The Dowd Rule
Words to read the New York Times by.
By Mark Goldblatt
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who once upon a time was a clever little girl, but who's been running on fumes since roughly the last presidential election, nowadays can hardly write 600 words without a gratuitous swipe at George Bush's supposed lack of intelligence. In her honor, therefore, I would like to name the Dowd Rule. To wit: No one who thinks George W. Bush is stupid is as smart as George W. Bush.
Now of course "stupid" and "smart" are unavoidably subjective attributes (if objective stupidity did exist, however, its poster boys would surely be the head bangers in those Coors Light commercials), so in that sense the Dowd Rule is neither verifiable nor falsifiable and, thus, according to the tenets of Logical Positivism, ultimately meaningless. So I offer it not as a scientific principle but rather as a manner of solace, a quiet place to which folks (to use one of the president's favorite words) can retreat from the snide obtuseness of Bush's detractors who cannot grasp the concept that polysyllabic flourishes do not always signify extraordinary critical aptitude or even common sense. (Witness, for example, Logical Positivists.)
Honestly, I don't know where Bush ranks in terms of gray matter against past presidents. What I do know is that he's perceptive enough to hire the strongest team of speechwriters since the Kennedy Administration, and he's secure enough to surround himself with folks (again!) like Dick Cheney, who whipped the butt of certified Democratic smarty-pants Joe Lieberman's in their only debate, like Donald Rumsfeld, a no-nonsense hawk who scares the bejeebers out of America's enemies, like Colin Powell, a charismatic moderate and diplomatic "good cop" to counterbalance Rumsfeld's "bad cop," and like Condoleezza Rice, who, in 2008, will likely become both the first African American and the first woman elected president of the United States. (For the record and you heard it here first she'll skewer Hillary, platitude by platitude, in a series of Nielson-bonanza debates and take the election in a landslide, thus officially dragging America out of the Clinton Era, that 16-year stretch of moral manure we collectively stepped in back in 1992.)
But to return to the issue of intelligence, or lack thereof, it is symptomatic of the intellectual state of the Left and Dowd is its great exemplar in this respect that rhetorical disdain has come to substitute for rational criticism. In just the last several weeks, she's belittled Bush as a latter-day character from the Beverly Hillbillies, as "the Boy Emperor" who needs a Rumsfeld-esque spiritual guide to explain foreign policy, as one of "that small coterie of bewildered guys [who confronted the hipness of the 1960's college students] in wide-wale corduroy trousers, Izod polo shirts and Sperry Topsiders," as "Junior" whose foreign policy is driven by his fear being called a "wimp," and as a desperate son whose goal is to "transform Baghdad into 'Hey, dad, that dude is history.'"
The problem with this sort of writing is that it's free-floating sarcasm. There's no substance underneath except for Dowd's conviction that she can peer into the souls of her political adversaries in order to discern their true motivations. In this respect, she is simply Al Franken with a bigger vocabulary or Michael Moore with table manners. (Quick aside on Moore: Flip through his book next time you pass it on a shelf. Note the SENTENCES IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Note the preponderance of exclamation points! In the current climate, Moore is a wobbling monument to the false impression that mouthing egalitarian clich้s from the Sixties constitutes a reasoned worldview; in a more literate time, Moore would pass for a JERRY SPRINGER GUEST!) Dowd, Franken, and Moore, taken together, represent the evolutionary spectrum of a new species of elitists. Elitism, to be sure, is as old as human society. But never in recorded history has a less cerebrally, morally, or spiritually elite Elite looked down their noses at the majority of their countrymen. The minimum requirement for membership in the intelligentsia used to be, well, intelligence. This is no longer the case. Rather, what is now required is the mere sense of your own superiority, the smirky confidence that flows from an undergraduate grasp of history, philosophy, and literature, and which can only be sustained by a maniacal deafness to counterarguments. Listening to your political opponents is deadly under such circumstances; they must therefore be dismissed, a priori, as stupid.
This is a corollary, not a mere a reiteration, of the case against the liberal media brought, intemperately but devastatingly, by Ann Coulter in Slander. (Coulter versus Dowd, by the way, would be an even worse massacre of a debate than Condi versus Hillary because Coulter would have no mercy.) The problem isn't that the new elites are consciously attempting to paint whoever disagrees with them as stupid; it's that they really believe that only stupid people could possibly disagree with them.
They are blind, in other words, to the fundamental truth that stupidity is not a function of what you believe, but why you believe what you believe. Do your conclusions follow logically from sound premises? Or do they consist of knee-jerk responses that defy analysis? (Is it possible, for example, to hold an informed opinion about the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore while not recognizing the names Marbury or Madison?) Do your conclusions coalesce into a defensible politics? Or do they begin to contradict one another in application? (Is it possible, for example, to applaud the boycott of South Africa for apartheid while condemning the boycott of Iraq for genocide?) By these criteria, there's not much of an I.Q. gap between the rubes hopping around the Montana woods sporting camouflage fatigues and toting copies of The Turner Diaries and the rubes hopping around the Soho bar scene sporting multiple piercings and toting copies of The Village Voice. The groups are, in reality, intellectual mirror images. Both worship ill-defined notions of individual freedom, both are filled with irrational rage towards the government which both view as malevolent and conspiratorial and each group feels oppressed, in some vague though palpable way, by the other. Indeed, the only significant difference between the two groups is that the Soho crowd pays considerably more for their clothes.
If Dowd ever recognizes the true nature of stupidity, she may ratchet down the sarcasm and actually write something worthwhile again.