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Hey Blockhead! Who You Calling “Stupid”?

Blockheads

Gumby’s nemesis, the Blockheads.

What’s the hubbub about an MIT economist who called out American voter “stupidity”?

MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber made millions off of his computer model which simulated how the Congressional Budget Office would respond to the financial impacts of the Affordable Care Act.

About five years ago, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi knew his name. Now, Pelosi denies his existence after at least one video of him trumpeting American voter “stupidity” on the ACA has come to light.

Gruber and his patrons in the political class are running for cover because of rank Republican hypocrisy. Karl Rove understands it perfectly. He once quipped: “Memo to White House: Calling voters stupid is not a winning strategy.” But treating them like they are stoopid is a winning strategy, because, in fact, Americans are dumb.

Which is why the GOP is spending so much time trying to score points against Democratic stand-in Gruber.

First, let’s be clear. I am too stupid to understand the ACA. And this is after my wife worked for the Access Health CT, the entity set up by statute to run Connecticut’s health insurance exchange. The ACA is labyrinthine legislation, designed for complexity.

My general rule is that I am not unique, and that if I cannot do something, there are likely millions of others like me. The ACA is more than 900 pages, written not for simplicity, but for and by the for-profit insurance industry to continue to treat our bodies like mines to be stripped for moolah.

Maybe it’s that I am that stupid to think health care a universal human right. Or stupid to think that single payer health care is the right solution.

Whatever the case, though, Gruber is right. Americans are dumb, and certainly too stupid to understand the complexities of a bill written by Republicans, enacted by Democrats, all for the benefit of insurance companies.

And now, when Gruber speaks this Rovian truth, he and his sponsors are excoriated by the very people who have dumbed down public education. It isn’t even right to ask if there are no bounds to GOP hypocrisy, because there aren’t. Political power grabs have no shame.

And Gruber is certainly not the first one to say the American electorate is too stupid to tie its own shoes. Doesn’t anyone remember that headline in the UK’s Daily Mirror after George W. Bush won re-election in 2004 “How Can 59,054,087 People Be So Dumb?”

The Daily Mirror pointed out the number of people who voted for George W., and essentially, insulted them. The Daily Mirror was right. George W. Bush is an unindicted war criminal who violated international law and human rights. But most Americans are unfamiliar with the Geneva Conventions.

Thomas Frank, the intellectual who wrote 2004’s What’s The Matter With Kansas?, has long wondered how the American conservative won the heart of the midwest, getting heartland Republicans to vote against their best economic interests.

From Frank’s 2004 tome: “The trick never ages, the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital-gains taxes. Vote to make our country Strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization efforts. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.”

Isn’t any voter too dumb to see through the Republican ruse worthy of ridicule? And now, when there are political points to be scored, the Republicans pretend they are as honest as apple pie (non-GMO apples, of course).

Gruber, an MIT economist, certainly has the credibility to weigh such a charge against the American citizenry. He sees the caliber of American student.

Study after study shows that Americans are patently, regularly uninformed. In 2006, a National Geographic survey showed 70 percent of 18-24 year old Americans could not find Israel on a map.

Israel is only the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and the country with the most influence on American foreign policy. I can’t imagine knowing where the Christian messiah was born would be important, even considering that 46 percent of Americans believe that this messiah’s father created the world in seven days.

Mother Jones this week ran a story called “America is the Developed World’s Second Most Ignorant Country.” The governing class depends on this ignorance, although Mother Jones questions even this precept.

But how else can the elite who control American policy get away with the garbage they do? In 2011, Newsweek revealed that 29 percent of 1,000 Americans randomly chosen could not name the vice president. This is a problem.

Our political system is a tangled mess, and the ACA capitalizes on this. Newsweek quoted Michael Schudson, author of author of The Good Citizen as saying: “Nobody is competent to understand it all, which you realize every time you vote. You know you’re going to come up short, and that discourages you from learning more.”

Income inequality contributes to the know-nothingness of Americans, according the this same Newsweek article. And that income inequality continues to grow doesn’t help the situation.

Maybe when a guy like Gruber calls us out for being dumb, people will do something about it. Then again, maybe that kind of honesty only creates an opening for facetious political players to say: “Don’t let those college professors call you stupid. You’re smarter than that.” But we’re not.

What did Aldous Huxley say? “ We don’t know because we don’t want to know.” It’s easier that way. And no government can prevent us from not wanting to know.

I know when I ran for Congress against John Larson in 2010, Glastonbury High School invited me to speak to its senior class seminar. I asked the 350 or so assembled students to raise their hands if they knew who their Congressman was.

Less than 10 percent raised their hands. I told the audience that Americans were stupid. They thought I was calling them stupid directly. I mean, I was, but only in a roundabout way.

They attacked me. Go figure. Insult someone’s intelligence, and they think they are suddenly smarter than they really are.

Glastonbury is one of the richest communities in Connecticut, yet its most educated children could not name their representative in Congress? Shameful, worthy of scorn, and certainly unfit to vote in elections. But vote they will, thus making Gruber 100 percent right.

And yet the here is the GOP heaping ridicule on Gruber (and people like me) for making such a point. Bring it, I say.

Let’s have a debate about American idiocy. Let’s have a debate about why Americans don’t know enough about their government to effectively participate in it. Let’s have a debate about how this dearth of information impacts our daily lives.

Unfortunately, our political leaders depend on American stupidity to govern, and they don’t want it any other way.

 

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