The Left's Superiority Complex
by Ari Armstrong, November 18, 2004
Usually we don't assume that people who walk around wearing T-shirts that read "I'm with stupid" are especially intelligent. Yet a surprising number of John Kerry's supporters hysterically insulted the intelligence of those who backed George W. Bush in the election. Such leftists cannot possibly accept the notion that most Americans simply disagree with John Kerry on the issues. Instead, these leftists imagine, Kerry is obviously smarter than Bush, Kerry's ideas are undeniably more intelligent, and thus only dolts could possibly have voted for Bush. Q.E.D.
This element of the left, caught up as it is in its intellectual superiority complex, is therefore blinded to its own echo-chamber "logic," fallacies of ad hominem, bigoted stereotypes, and naive conspiracy theories.
For example, Jason Bosch, active with a Denver organization called Argusfest, said of Bush's victory, "[W]hat went wrong is Americans are severely ignorant and misinformed." Yet Argusfest is a group that shows leftist propaganda films.
According to Argusfest.org, the group showed "Bush's Brain" October 30-31. That documentary, while it makes some valuable points, also incorrectly concludes that Bush supported the war in Iraq because Karl Rove wanted to use the war for political purposes. The film sweeps under the rug the facts that Saddam Hussein built and used weapons of mass destruction, funded terrorists who murdered Americans, and ran a country strategically located in the heart in of the Middle East. The film doesn't bother to hold a rational discourse over the war; instead it merely slings the ad hominem attacks that Bush is stupid (somebody else serves as his brain) and he went to war purely for cynical political reasons.
At an October 2 event at which I discussed globalization, Bosch absurdly compared a job willingly accepted by a person in a developing country with slavery. And after the election, Bosch distributed an e-mail with the subject, "Stolen Election, Again," a repetition of tired and widely debunked conspiracy theories that Kerry himself quickly dismissed.
A November 11 column in Boulder Weekly lamented that "for the 59 million people who cast votes for George W, facts didn't seem to matter," and "narrow-mindedness and religious fundamentalism are what won George this election." The column mentions, "According to Newsweek, George got 51 percent of the vote among college-educated people, while Kerry earned 47 percent." How is this statistic explained away? The "worldview [of Bush's supporters] is terribly limited and -- even worse -- their perspective has gone largely unchallenged despite their college degree."
Yet Paul Freedman argues in Slate that the candidates' positions on terrorism was the real difference: "Nationally, 49 percent of voters said they trusted Bush but not Kerry to handle terrorism; only 31 percent trusted Kerry but not Bush... 99 percent of those who trusted only Kerry on the issue voted for him, and 97 percent of those who trusted only Bush voted for him."
The simple theory that those who voted for Bush thought Bush would do a better job defending America against terrorists cannot be entertained by the left, Ockham be damned.
The New York Times quoted a local who "contended that New Yorkers were not as fooled by Mr. Bush's statements as other Americans might be." A Boulderite wrote to the Denver Post, "It seems that the (Redneck) inmates are truly in charge of the asylum now and will continue in power, a power based on fear... We were hoping for a miracle that didn't happen to save us from this 'Dark Ages' nightmare." True enough, most rednecks I've met are incapable of such breathless hyperbole.
Perhaps, though, we should chalk up such claims to sore losers. Much of the left is self-reflective these days, rather than viciously insulting. Unfortunately, though, the left's infatuation with its own genius and superiority is too deeply entrenched to lightly dismiss.
For example, in his November 13 "On the Media" column for the Rocky Mountain News, Michael Tracey -- who also teaches journalism at the University of Colorado -- writes, "It is now clear that for large numbers of Americans it is still as if modernity never actually happened, that irrationality, unreason, belief in the mystical and supernatural hold sway, larded with an intense and emotional fervency, and a serious willingness to crush those who disagree or are different." Tracey's claim is a more sophisticated variant of the "stupid redneck" charge.
In his October 30 column, Tracey cited "two recent reports from the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland [that] show remarkable confusion in the public mind, particularly among Bush supporters." Aha! Scientific evidence that Bush's supporters are stupid! Yet Tracey is living in his own fantasy land, and the PIPA study is biased and deeply flawed.
Tracey confuses sophistry with knowledge. Bertrand Russell warned against intellectual pretention: "Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education." Jeffrey Friedman makes the point more delicately writing for the Fall, 1998, edition of Critical Review. Discussing the 1964 work of Philip Converse -- "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics" -- Friedman argues that "the alternative to sheer ignorance is reliance on ideology to organize one's knowledge. The cognitive elite knows more about politics than the masses, but its superior knowledge is both enabled and 'constrained' by the very belief systems, left and right, of which the masses are largely ignorant. Ideology tells ideologues what positions to take on the 'issue' du jour almost before the issue becomes known... The heuristic role of ideology suggests that even relatively knowledgeable elites are still ignorant, since they cannot judge the adequacy of their worldviews without abandoning ideology for unattainable, universal expertise."
What's worrisome about Friedman's analysis is that it borders on skepticism. There is a difference between false ideology and true. An "ideology" is a system of ideas, and a careful thinker remains alert to the evidence and revises his ideas according to the dictates of reality. As an explanation of leftist ideology, though, Friedman's point is largely on target.
In his November 6 column, David Kopel, Tracey's counterpart in covering the media, writes, "Tracey erred... in his unstated assumption that John Kerry supporters... are the slightest bit more rationally informed than Bush voters. According to polls, many youthful Kerry voters believed in the hoax that Bush will reinstate the draft next spring. According to polls, many people viewed and believed Michael Moore's fraudulent Fahrenheit 9/11..." Kopel, the author of Fifty-Nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11, also points to a recent Cato study that shows voters display ignorance across the board.
Notice what nobody is denying: a substantial number of American voters are ignorant. Yet the left's claims that the right is more ignorant is hubris.
The central problem of the PIPA study is that the questions were written to test support for Bush's decisions. This automatically gives rise to bias. A different set of questions intended to embarrass Democrats would skew the results in the opposite direction; i.e., appear to make Democrats look relatively stupid.
Three distinct problems arise with the PIPA results. First, some people intentionally try to "spin" polls to make the published results favor their candidate. Second, many people take blind guesses on tests and polls. It is no surprise that, when guessing blindly, the answers of Bush's supporters favored Bush while the answers of Bush's critics disfavored Bush. Third, many of the survey questions were ambiguous, using such terms as "significant" and direct." When left with wide interpretive latitude, it's not surprising that Bush's supporters chose to interpret questions to favor Bush. Thus, the PIPA study is unscientific and its conclusions are invalid.
Here is but one example. The PIPA survey asked people to classify the "relationship between the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein and the terrorist group al-Qaeda." Four answers were possible: "no connection at all," "a few al-Qaeda individuals visited Iraq or had contact with Iraqi officials but Iraq did not provide substantial support to al-Qaeda," "Iraq gave substantial support to al-Qaeda, but was not involved in the September 11th attacks," and "Iraq was directly involved in carrying out the September 11th attacks."
And who gets to define the word "substantial?" PIPA, of course. Depending on one's interpretation of the relative term "substantial," the second and third answers are indistinguishable.
The two clearly wrong answers are the first and fourth ones. Among Bush supporters, 2% said there was no connection, and 20% said Iraq was "directly involved" in 9/11. Thus, 22% of Bush's supporters gave clearly wrong answers (even if they were spinning or guessing). Among Kerry supporters, 18% said there was no connection, while 8% said Iraq was directly involved with 9/11. Thus, 26% of Kerry's supporters gave clearly wrong answers (even if they were spinning or guessing).
What do these answers prove? Mostly they prove that Bush's supporters are more likely to answer questions in a way that favors Bush, while Bush's critics are more likely to answer questions in a way that disfavors Bush. This says absolutely nothing about the relative levels of knowledge of the two groups.
As it turns out, some highly educated people who have spent enormous effort evaluating the evidence indeed believe that "Iraq gave substantial support to al-Qaeda." For example, at HusseinAndTerror.com, columnist Deroy Murdock cites Stephen Hayes's "The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America." Murdock concludes "there is abundant and undeniable evidence that Saddam Hussein provided money, diplomatic services, shelter, medical care, and training to terrorists of every stripe, including those complicit in the 1993 WTC bombing and -- according to a Clinton-appointed federal judge -- the September 11 attacks. The Iraqi dictator aided al-Qaeda and other global terrorists who murdered Americans, both at home and abroad."
Yet, according to PIPA, Murdock's exhaustively researched, 5,400 word report doesn't count. Only PIPA's answers count. Those who wrote up the PIPA survey results, and those who uncritically cite them, such as Tracey, don't bother to actually address the case Murdock reviews. Instead, they pretend only their opinions matter, only their sources are correct, and any opposing viewpoint need merely be buried beneath pseudo-scientific reams of survey data. Not surprisingly, when leftists conduct studies to confirm their own biases, they succeed.
Tracey and the wonks at PIPA thus enable to the left to wrap itself in its own dogma and simply ignore outside criticism. After all, why pay attention to stupid people? And so the pseudo-knowledge of the left becomes a veil of ignorance.
The leftists who make fun of Bush's supporters have proven they can memorize canned one-liners and invoke sophisticated (if misleading) statistics. Yet they confuse their talking points with true knowledge. That many leftists are more pedantic, self-important, and condescending is obvious. But smarter? The fact that they think they are helps demonstrate that they're not.
Ari Armstrong edits FreeColorado.com, and he voted for John Kerry for President.