Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Dumb Republicans! – Tom Rossi

It’s been a fun week for those who enjoy making fun of right-wing ideologues. News of a study by Gordon Hodson and Michael A. Brusseri was released that appears to have shown that right-wingers are dumb. I can’t wait to see Jon Stewart’s bit on this, but because this has been pounced upon by so many already, I’ll leave the fun and the defensiveness to others and explain why I think the truth in this matter is a little more complicated.

Judging by the abstract (that’s all that’s currently available, as the article is “in press”), the authors did not actually attempt to link the lack of cognitive ability (called “dumbness” in articles that have appeared all over the internet) with conservatism but rather concluded that low cognitive ability along with low “intergroup contact” were strongly linked to racial and homosexual prejudice, with the presence of “right wing ideology” mediating the relationship.

This little abstract, much as the avalanche of related internet materials, is loaded with potentially fine and not-so-fine hairs to split in terminology – cognitive ability vs. intelligence, conservative vs. right-wing ideologue, etc. It’s too big a mess to sort out here, so let’s just explore some experiences I’ve had in the relation between politics and intelligence.

At one point in my life, I found that I had three very close friends who identified themselves as conservatives. In order to talk about them freely, without fear of the potential the retaliation of a really long list of my own “interesting” characteristics being posted on the internet, I’ll just call them, “Snap,” “Crackle,” and “Pop.” I knew each well and each was highly intelligent and at least somewhat well educated.

Snap was instrumental in my getting through one of the most difficult times of my life. He was heavily involved in the “fine arts” – music, specifically, in which he got a Master’s degree. When he graduated, he returned to his home in the “Deep South.” He became re-immersed in his family’s politics and soon, Snap snapped and stopped talking to me, mostly because I refused to accept George W. Bush as the savior of America. Admittedly, I made lots of jokes at W.’s expense, even when I knew it antagonized my friend, so some of the blame is certainly mine. But his (I say illegitimate) admiration for W. was eclipsed by his legitimate admiration for his own father – a brilliant surgeon who miraculously puts people back together after horrifying accidents. I greatly miss his Snap’s friendship.

Crackle is somewhat high up in the criminal justice field. He “only” has a Bachelor’s degree (that he received alongside me), but he just might have the most organized mind of the three. He is a staunch conservative and he gives generously to good charities, both of his time and his money. He has invested his work and his money very wisely and is a middle-class success story if there ever was one. His debating skills are incredible and he keeps up on current events amazingly well, especially with all the work he does while raising two kids. He challenges me on the issues of politics so well that I have to work way too hard to compete with him. Sometimes I give up, not because he’s beaten me, but because I can’t keep up with his energy.

Pop has been one of my best friends for many years. He’s very smart, and honest even when there are clear incentives not to be. He has an MBA from a top university and what is commonly called a “type A” personality in that he is incredibly energetic and is adamant in expressing his opinions. Faced with obstacles, he only sees ways to overcome them. He always encourages me even when it must feel like bashing his head against a brick wall. Recently, Pop has decided that he is, after all, a liberal, except when it comes to certain issues like guns. I actually credit Bill Maher with this transformation.

Each of these three also seems to admire me, even though I think of myself as not much more than a screw-up. These are all good, smart, caring people. Why is this long-winded, personal story important? Because it shows that people don’t have to be dumb to have conservative values.

I know what you’re going to say: “Whoa there Tom! You love nothing more than to make fun of Republicans!” And you would be right. I make fun of just about everything. But it would be a mistake to think that conservatism is simply based on a lack of intelligence. Lots of conservatives are dumb, as are lots of liberals. But plenty are not dumb. Instead they have followed false algorithms from their values to their political affiliations.

This means that progressives can’t just fall back on their mental superiority and assume that they will (along with all humanity) easily win the battle for the earth. It means we have to sharpen our pencils… and our rhetoric. I love to make jokes, but explaining just why it is that I and others believe that we must change the trajectory of this country is going to be a lot more difficult. It involves the illumination of more than one inconvenient truth.

The reality of broad variation in intelligence among conservatives splits the work of creating a more progressive society in two. The fact is that, in order to advance to a better society, conservatives have to be convinced that many of their ideas are wrong – especially about economics. I always feel that I have a legitimate shot at changing the minds of intelligent conservatives. The dumb ones? I’m not sure how to deal with them.

We’ll talk more about this next week.

-Tom Rossi

(with thanks to Roger Ingalls)


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


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6 thoughts on “Dumb Republicans! – Tom Rossi

  1. Kymberlie Ingalls on said:

    “Snap snapped” had me lol’ing, literally, Tom. Good use of personal in this essay, love the names and the examples. Me? I defy labels. As my husband likes to call me; “part conservative, part liberal, and a whole lot commie.”. But the truth is, I just can’t being myself to care about politics any deeper than scratching my surface need to bitch about something once in a while.

    ~ Kymberlie

  2. Tom-
    Well said and funny. Many of my friends are Republicans and very smart. What bugs me most is many of them refuse to research anything about the economy and instead just recite conservative sound bites like, “Democrats recklessly spend”. They don’t want to know the truth.
    Good piece!

  3. Thanks Kymberlie and Roger. Life is interesting… and complicated. So are friends.

  4. Not bad for a blithering ideologist who thinks government can solve all the worlds ills. Progressives are well intended with a warped sense that they have all the best ideas. Especially as they reap the benefits of conservative ideals like capitalism and real freedom. Hmmm, go disagree with Chavez, Premier Wen Jiabao or Castro. Oh I forgot, you are of the same ilk but forget that you just might not agree with an all powerful government but when that happens it will be too late. You are wise to love your conservative friends, they protect your freedom to express far more than progressives ever will. You said your conservatives remain friends even though you disagree with them. I have a novel idea, try disagreeing with your progressive friends and see if they remain FRIENDS.

    • Daniel, thank you so much for telling me what I think! I didn’t realize that I think “government can solve all the world’s ills.” Gosh, I feel so liberated, now that I know.

      You mention a few oxymorons and widely-accepted contradictions in terms such as, “benefits of… capitalism and ‘real freedom’.” This “real freedom thing is going to require its own post to explore (refute), but let’s just talk about the “benefits of capitalism.” I (and you) do not reap benefits from capitalism – the very rich do. It’s true that the standard of living is higher now than, say, in 1875. But since the early 1970’s, the standard of living of the middle class has been stagnant, while it’s skyrocketed for the very rich.

      Where is the standard of living considerably higher for the average citizen? Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland… countries that don’t like to call themselves “socialist,” but would certainly seem so if placed within the incredibly narrow political spectrum of United States politics. If we turned SOMEWHAT toward socialism, YOUR standard of living (assuming your not actually one of the Koch brothers) would improve dramatically. But I guess you don’t want that.

      On your last topic, progressives debate and disagree with each other constantly. Some of my friends and I even raise our voices sometimes (more them than me – I don’t feel that it makes anything more convincing) and, to an outsider, we might give the impression that we just can’t get along. Then, we either find common ground, or we just agree to disagree, open a beer, and start laughing at ourselves. This is what makes a real friend. If you always agree with a friend, you haven’t tested him or her and you don’t REALLY know.

      What you’ve done here is what conservatives too often resort to: they can’t argue well with the real positions of progressives, so they make up some boloney that they can easily defeat or at least make to sound stupid. Have a beer. Join the real debate. Let’s see whose REAL ideas are not just internally, but externally consistent.

  5. Pingback: Is Republican Freedom Our Freedom? « Left Coast Voices

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