Saturday, May 14, 2005

Please don't call him dumb

Mark Schmitt on Virginia senator and GOP presidential hopeful George Allen:

there's something fascinating about Allen: He does not speak English. I mean that almost literally, in that he does not construct sentences made up of commonplace English words. Rather, he speaks entirely in a patois constructed of football metaphors. Absolutely everything is second down or third down, or five yards or ten yards or a Hail Mary. If you were unfamiliar with the basic jargon of American football (as many people are), his every word would be incomprehensible.

In the comments, a Neil who isn't me says:

He's as dumb as a bag of rocks, and I expect America to pick up on that.


Please don't do this again. We attack the dumb guy for being dumb, he out-good-ol'-boys us, we look like effete elitists, and we lose. We've been through a world of hurt trying this strategy before, and I don't want to see it again. If we had defined Bush as a spoiled rich kid who never amounted to anything beyond what his daddy bought him, just as he was emerging in 2000, we would've been much better off. Of course, we couldn't have, because Al Gore had the wrong life story for that kind of thing.

It's probably easier to run the spoiled-rich-kid critique against the son of a president than the son of a football coach. Maybe not impossible, though. Is there a strong enough trope about the coaches' son who gets to be starting quarterback out of nepotism rather than talent? Inquiring effete elitists want to know.

(The original draft of this post contained the line, "When you go on about the dumbness of a GOP nominee, you're throwing into triple coverage, and the Republicans are going to run it back for a touchdown." While there's a temptation to follow up the mentions of football metaphor by using one, I felt that I should resist. Thoughts?)


Neil Sinhababu said...

Your offense-defense setup works better. But I don't think it captures the extent to which they turn your attacks into something of positive value for them.

Blue said...

Neil on smartness "I know it's important, but American populace clearly doesn't agree on that, and they voted us down twice because we're portrayed as extremist and detatched for focusing on that."

On populism: "It's important to get someone who has this, and the American populace would have voted for us if we had emphasized populism more."

So I don't really like this analysis. Especially when the analogies apply to events that were incredibly chance as was.

Neil Sinhababu said...

When was the last Presidential election where the more populist guy lost? I'm guessing it was sometime before I was born. 1968, maybe? There was a real populism shortage in 1988, and I don't know how to assess 1980. The last two elections offer pretty severe tests of the hypothesis -- everything (economy, etc.) was going our way in 2000, and we had plenty to work with in 2004 too. Still, we lost.

I'd like to live in a world where people voted for the smart technocrat, but we're just not there.

Blue said...

Now we've got arbitary questions about "who's more populist" in a way that's completely separate from the policy positions, in your question of who wins elections. For one, Dukakis v Bush, Nixon v McGovern would hopefully put the lie to it.

But more so, it's part of this "a trait is good because whoever has it more wins the election" that's a lot more like fortune-telling than it actual political analysis (which would be more like, having X trait gives you 4% points on avg). Not that political science is great yet, but until 2000 people believed the taller candidate automatically one too.

Anyway, my original comment was about populism in terms of policy positions, which just as many people have blamed for the loss of the democratic party as silly eggheadism.

I want a smart president. I want it as much as any policy position. I'd sell off healthcare to win an election and get all the other important things, I'd also sell off smartness. But that doesn't say either aren't important.