The sad thing is, someone thought it would be smart for him to say this

The even sadder thing is, the person who thought that may have been right. If, of course, your definition of “smart” is whatever wins an election, even if along the way you’re destroying America.

Unfortunately, one of the things wrong with our republic these days is that it’s full of people who think that way. Using the term “think” loosely, of course.

Here’s an excerpt from The Washington Post‘s coverage on this:

A highly anticipated debate is scheduled next month in the U.S. Senate race in Georgia, and Republican nominee Hershel Walker is already trying to downplay expectations for his performance.

“I’m a country boy. I’m not that smart,” Walker told reporters Friday on a campaign stop in Savannah, Ga., according to an account from the Savannah Morning News.

Walker, a former football star, also noted that his opponent, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), is a preacher.

Warnock “is smart and wears these nice suits,” Walker said. “So, he is going to show up and embarrass me at the debate October 14th, and I’m just waiting to show up, and I will do my best.”

In a healthy representative democracy, a candidate who actually realizes he’s not as smart as his opponent bows out and lets the opponent have it — unless the opponent possesses significant character flaws. In which case you talk about the character flaws, rather than your own inadequacy. (Or you emphasize policy differences — although for a smarter person to be advocating worse policies than your own, he would have to possess the aforementioned character flaws.)

But as we all saw in 2016 and have been painfully reminded many times since, we no longer live in a healthy representative democracy.

So it is that someone in Mr. Walker’s campaign thought it would smart for him to admit he’s not smart. There’s nothing new about lowering expectations before a debate of course, but something like this lowers that old tactic to new depths.

Because in today’s sick politics, you can win by convincing people you’re the dumb guy (which, in Mr. Walker’s case, would not be difficult), and proud of it. Or the outrageously cruel guy, if you’re Ron DeSantis.

Of course, the person who devised this strategy would say Mr. Walker is just stressing his identification with Mr. Average. Hence the stuff about the opponent’s “nice suits.” Which means, of course, that the strategist openly believes Mr. Average is dumb, and likes being pandered to.

Which is something that works, a lot of the time.

I think some of y’all wonder sometimes why I have such a low opinion of populism. It’s because for our country’s entire history, it’s always had a close relationship with anti-intellectualism, in both its sincere and exploitative manifestations…

33 thoughts on “The sad thing is, someone thought it would be smart for him to say this

  1. DougT

    Latest polling showed this race pretty much tied? Scary. I’m also watching Ohio’s Ryan vs Vance and PA’s Fetterman vs Oz. I haven’t yet given up on the voting public…unless Palin wins her rematch.

  2. Ken

    Populism in American politics shouldn’t be painted with a broad brush. Populist movements in the US have pushed some bad notions. But they have also worked for positive change as well. They promoted the 8-hour work-day, improvements in working conditions and other pro-labor causes. They worked to combat political corruption and the power of monopolies and moneyed interests (plutocrats). They opposed imperialism. They supported increased funding for education and infrastructure. They backed women’s rights and generally sought to uplift the “common man.” None of that is anti-intellectual or exploitative. Quite the contrary. Not a bad record at all.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Ah, but that’s a problem not with my analysis, but with labeling. We stick the “populist” label on Huey Long providing free textbooks to schoolchildren, and we stick it on political support of Andrew Jackson over the infinitely better qualified John Quincy Adams.

      We can applaud the textbooks without applauding the thing I abhor, which is the anti-intellectualism that inevitably arises when we embrace populism as an ideology. For that matter, we can applaud the textbooks, as a thing that in the aggregate was good for Louisiana, without endorsing the Kingfish

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        This may be too facile, but perhaps my problem is with “isms.” Endorse the good ideas. Give Mussolini a nod for running the trains on time. But don’t for a moment embrace the fascism…

      2. Ken

        “the anti-intellectualism that inevitably arises when we embrace populism as an ideology.”

        But anti-intellectualism doesn’t necessarily follow from embracing populism – as should be evident from the list above. What’s more, planks in the Populist Party platform of 1896 became government policies during the New Deal. Others, like DC statehood, are still in circulation.

        One of the ways history operates is when groups (of voters, activists, etc.) mobilize behind this or that issue, policy, or idea. You may not personally like that it sometimes takes marches or protests or movements, with people being loud and boisterous and sometimes breaking a law or two as part of taking political action and pursuing social change, but that is often how it works.

        And, by the way, don’t be so quick to condemn “-isms,” either. Because that category also includes, for example, Catholicism, patriotism, etc.
        Those are ideologies as well.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yep, and that makes me wary. “Catholicism” could easily slide into a form of identity politics — a “people like me” mentality in which one prefers people who are culturally like you. Which can be problematic.

          Ditto with patriotism. A belief in the basic ideas upon which one’s country is based — liberal democracy, in our case — can easily slide into nationalism, and get very ugly indeed. Again, the “people like me” thing.

          And that’s one of the big problems with populism. Populist ideas can be good ones, seen from a distance, as an intellectual and moral construct. You can say, It’s good for the country to have policies guaranteeing that workers are treated fairly.

          But on the ground, it can very easily become, I need this change because it benefits ME, or “people like me.”

          And that’s an approach that is a cancer in politics. Then, things tend to break down into constant warfare between competing tribes, fighting over zero-sum resources.

          I’ve written about it in the past. I was deeply, profoundly offended by Reagan’s “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” As if that should be my standard for deciding how to vote. Of course, I’d run across it before. Four years before, in fact. I was talking about the 1976 election with someone at work, and she told me she and her husband planned to vote for Ford. I thought fine, Ford’s an OK guy, even though I was a huge Carter fan. So I asked her why, thinking there were any number of legitimate reasons someone might like Ford.

          I was deeply shocked by her answer.

          She said she and her husband had sat down and done the math (don’t ask me where she got the precise figures for such a calculation), and decided that Carter would cost them $1,000 more per year. So they were for Ford.

          She was dead serious. I’m sure my jaw dropped, but I don’t think I managed to come up with anything useful to say to her. I really, truly couldn’t believe that anyone would a) think that way, and base her vote on thinking that way, and b) admit it.

          I was pretty innocent then. I’ve run across this mentality hundreds, thousands of times. And I’ve realized her attitude is probably far, FAR more common than my own.

          But I will always argue against it. Pretty much always, anyway…

          I qualify that because I realize things that are good for the country overall sometimes come about by making effective use of that selfishness in weak humans. For instance, Lincoln got the 13th Amendment passed, finally banning slavery, because he effectively appealed to the selfish interests of some Democrats who were about to lose their seats in Congress.

          But I will continue to prefer getting it done a better way, whenever possible. In that case, it wasn’t possible…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Back to -isms — one of those I argue against now and then is feminism. It’s not only an -ism, but one that is all ABOUT looking at people as members of certain groups, rather than as people.

            Here’s where it breaks down, for me: When you vote for someone — say, Hillary Clinton in 2016 — BECAUSE she’s a woman, you’re letting an -ism be your first consideration, your overriding consideration.

            You should vote for her first because she is demonstrably the better-qualified candidate, by almost any standard of experience or character you care to apply. And second, of course, her opponent is an absolute nightmare. But she would have been better than most potential candidates. (Not better than Obama, or Biden, but better than most.)

            But voting for her BECAUSE she’s a woman suggests that you’re downgrading those considerations. You are therefore focusing on the wrong things, not the kinds of things that a voter, caring about the country as a whole, should focus on…

            1. Ken

              I’m not bothered by that sort of motivation in choosing whom to vote for – especially when it’s part of a mix of factors, which I think is more often the case than not). But it doesn’t really bother me even when it’s the sole or overriding motivation – such as when it involves the first-of-a-kind candidate, like first Black president or first woman president. Because it’s then a statement about what manner of country we are, or want to be. And that is, or can be, a genuinely thoughtful consideration, not an –ism, especially where the highest of offices is concerned.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Well, it might be legitimate — I don’t think so, but I could be wrong — but I wouldn’t call it “thoughtful.”

                It’s more of an emotional response. And it can be powerful, from what I’ve seen. And it can be innocent, too, not based in malice toward people who are not “like me.”

                I fully believe, for instance, that a little girl might be inspired by the election of a woman. Of course, the election of women is a very common experience these days (which you would think would lessen the force of that response), but I understand fully that most people seem to think the only election that counts is the presidency — particularly when they are operating on an emotional level.

                But I wouldn’t call that “thoughtful,” however strong the emotion may be.

                Of course, I say that I could be wrong here because I know of my own strong prejudice against engaging in politics emotionally rather than thoughtfully. And I look around me and see how unusual my approach is. I could interpret that as evidence of my own superiority, but I recoil from that, and tell myself that maybe everyone else knows something I don’t.

                Which they very well may…

                1. Ken

                  It’s a sad state of affairs when considerations of what manner of country one wishes to live in is NOT deemed thoughtful. In fact, it’s just shameful.

                    1. Ken

                      Then you must only be re-reading your own posts and not the one (not that far above) that read:
                      “Because it’s then a statement about what manner of country we are, or want to be. And that is, or can be, a genuinely thoughtful consideration….”

                    2. Brad Warthen Post author

                      But if you read it again, you should realize I wasn’t reacting to that, but to what went before: “But it doesn’t really bother me even when it’s the sole or overriding motivation – such as when it involves the first-of-a-kind candidate, like first Black president or first woman president.”

                      There, you were talking about an emotional, rather than a thoughtful, reaction. And that’s what I reacted to, in particular the “sole or overriding motivation” part. That obviously has to do with feeling, rather than thinking.

                      Defend the feeling if you like. As I said, the emotion could be entirely legitimate. I was disagreeing with you for calling it “thoughtful.” Legitimate feelings and legitimate thought are different things. I try — not always successfully — to stick with the thoughts. We all have emotions. I endeavor, however, to recognize the difference, and not confuse them.

                      And honestly, I really can’t imagine reading what I wrote any other way, much less dismissing it as “shameful.”

                    3. Brad Warthen Post author

                      You’re almost right, except that it’s not “getting tedious.” It got that way some time ago.

                      But don’t worry about it. We’re done now. Have a good day…

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Oh, by the way — you know how I made an exception to my general rule when I spoke of the passage of the 13th Amendment?

            Well, an ism believer wouldn’t do that. But I’m more pragmatic than that. I don’t think it’s great, say, to get someone to vote for your bill by voting for another bill that you’re lukewarm on, but sometimes it’s defensible. In fact, as anyone who has served in a legislative body will tell you, a LOT of times it’s defensible.

            Oh, no! Brad’s an adherent of pragmatISM!

            That’s the thing, you see. It’s not the letter I, S, and M that are the bad thing. The bad thing is being blinded to the better course by one’s ideology.

            And if your ideology is to reject anything that smacks in any way of something that smacks of an ism, then you’re part of the problem…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              This is one of the reasons why, even though I have for decades been critical of the Republicans and Democrats, I have an even bigger problem with the Libertarians.

              I say “one of the problems” because, of course, I’m opposed to libertarianism on almost any basis you care to name.

              But here, I mean that it is a bigger problem because at least (back in pre-TrumpISM days), the two big parties at least had some experience compromising to get things done. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have gotten so big. But rather than being a “big tent” outfit, the Libertarian Party is about ideology.

              Even though I much prefer communitarianism, if there were a Communitarian Party, I suspect it would fall into the same traps to some extent. Inevitably, even it would on occasion put the ism ahead of choosing the better policy approach in the given situation…

              1. Ken

                Lordy! The upshot of all these rejections sounds like a death-spiral toward … I’m not sure what, a panphobic anti-ism-ism, I suppose: a distrust of any sort of group action or commitment out of fear of the potential pitfalls. And that definitely does not conform with the promotion of positive rights under communitarianism.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Well, that’s a relief. I’d hate to think I was conforming perfectly to any ism…

                  I’ve mentioned this before, but do you know what I think the greatest irony is about communitarianism? It’s the fact that libertarians, who worship the almighty individual, have a party — and communitarians do not…

                  1. Ken

                    Seems like you’ve joined the ranks of the “Best Lack All Conviction” Party. Which is another name for the “Un-Party.” Whose motto is (to paraphrase Woody Allen): “I would never join a party that would have anybody else but me as a member.”

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      However, I would very much like belonging to any party that gets its name from one of the greatest poems of all time. If not THE greatest. I don’t care that everybody and his sister cite it all the time. It’s just that great.

                      Yeats was a genius. It took me quite a few years to see the pattern that was before me, over and over, in observing politics: the best do seem to lack conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. They just never, ever stop….

  3. Barry

    GOP Congressional candidate and former Trump administration official formerly said the United States had suffered as a result of women getting the right to vote and women should have stayed at home instead of working.

    You’d think this stuff is comedy skit stuff but these folks are actual real people.

    He’s also a conspiracy theorist with an odd fascination with accusing people of worshipping Satan. Of course he worked for Trump.

    Oh- and he won the GOP primary defeating one of the most eloquent and decent Republicans in Congress.

    1. Doug Ross

      So something he said as a student at Stanford in 2001 is naturally tied to Donald Trump? Can we review some of the things said by Joe Biden AS A SENATOR and judge him by those same standards?

      “In 2010, he warmly eulogized Sen. Robert Byrd, a former Exalted Cyclops in the Ku Klux Klan, saying he was “one of my mentors” and that “the Senate is a lesser place for his going.”

      In 2007, he referred to Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean.”

      In 2006, he said, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”

      Way back in 1977, he said that forced busing to desegregate schools would cause his children to “grow up in a racial jungle.”

      The obsession with Trump is hilarious to watch. Imagine spending actual time each day thinking about him and then writing about him on a blog. For what purpose??? He’s gone. He’s not running again. All he wants is to continue to be in the spotlight and the brainwashed liberals keep feeding his ego.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I almost deleted the last graf — you know, the completely unnecessary, oft-repeated personal crack — before publishing this.

        But I figured, if you’re so determined to embarrass yourself by repeating the silliness about how I am unusually obsessed with Trump yet AGAIN, I should just let you go ahead…

        1. Barry

          It’s ok that Doug believes that.

          It’s one of the many things Doug’s wrong about. But he has that right to be wrong.

      2. Bart

        If the way-back meme is in fashion, let’s try the 1988 primaries when Biden boasted about his accomplishments as a college student only to be called out by every reporter in every newspaper and the once bipartisan moderators and commentators on PBS and network stations. Plus, his plagiarism in college and as a candidate.

        His defense at the time? “Everyone makes mistakes, and I am no different and will make mistakes in the future.” – paraphrased by me of course. The problem was or still is, he continued/continues to make the same mistakes again and again. Yet, good ol’ Joe gets a pass from the media and fellow Democrats time and time and time again.

        Trump you say? At this point, what does it matter? – thanks Hillary. Trump is becoming more and more irrelevant to more and more Republicans, even some of the most ardent supporters are falling away. He cannot keep his stupid mouth shut and is making some of the stupidest comments possible. Declassifying documents by merely thinking about declassifying them? Only a total moron would even dare make such a public statement and expect his followers to believe it.

        I have no use for either Trump or Biden, both have been and continue to be disasters for this country and both are equally guilty of turning a nation that once had a modicum of respect for the opposition but with Biden and Trump spewing their venom about one half of the country or the other, they have turned any sense of decency and the will to work together into a farcical notion.

        Republicans and Democrats who both occupy the cesspool inside the Beltway could care less about us, the general public when it comes to the politics of personal and social destruction.

        I miss the days of Vidal and Buckley when they were able to state their positions with great use of the English language, throw verbal barbs at each other, and still come out without the hatred and vitriol that is so commonplace in the present version of our “society”. Perhaps a reflection on the lack of a proper, classical education that is lacking in our educational systems of today.

      3. Barry

        Of course it’s tied to Donald Trump. Donald Trump supports him and hired him to work in his administration. That “ties” you to Donald Trump whether you like it or not. That’s the way it works.

        I am not sure that a belief, 20 whole years ago in the 21st century, that women should not have the right to vote is a good a defense as you think it is. In fact, I know it’s not. We all do.

        …and since then- he’s also promoted numerous conspiracy theories and seems very focused on accusing his opponents of worshipping Satan. These folks seem very obsessed with Satan. What a sad way to live.

        “CNN’s KFile previously reported that Gibbs’ history of conspiratorial and inflammatory tweets included baselessly accusing Democrats of taking part in satanic rituals and defending a notorious anti-Semitic troll banned by Twitter.”

        Now, I think we all understand that some don’t want to discuss him and had rather point fingers. We all get that.

        Regarding Robert Byrd- I always find people that bring him up to be totally illogical given Byrd’s transformation.

        I still remember Joe Biden being invited by Strom Thurmond’s family to give his eulogy at First Baptist Columbia. Biden received thunderous applause from the elite of Conservatism in South Carolina during and after his speech at the funeral because he talked about how he disagreed fundamentally with Strom on many issues but he was proud he was able to work with him on many issues and they were able to do that despite their views.

          1. Barry

            I was making fun of the idea that a current candidate for office saying in 2001/ 2002 that women shouldn’t have the right to vote isn’t exactly the same as Joe Biden saying something positive about Robert Byrd (or even Strom Thurmond as Joe often did).

            Plus, that same candidate for office was recently talking about how Democrats worship Satan and are carrying at Satanic rituals. The obsession with Satan is odd.

            I know Doug likes to defend Republicans by pointing fingers at Democrats, but this defense was just weird.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              “a current candidate for office saying in 2001/ 2002 that women shouldn’t have the right to vote isn’t exactly the same as Joe Biden saying something positive about Robert Byrd”

              I agree. Not the same at all. I’m pretty sure Robert Byrd was not a woman… 🙂

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