Pixel Tracker

Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 12:55 am | Fair 47º


David Harsanyi: To Win Over Americans, You Don’t Have to Be ‘Smart,’ Just Right

GOP presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry sells voters on talking points

Folks in the media often judge the intellect of candidates using one crucial question: Do you agree with me?

Now, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, leading Republican presidential candidate, readily admits that he’s not a scholarly type. But if your spider senses, like mine, are tingling, it probably has more to do with Perry’s slippery politics than it does with his aversion to curling up with a dog-eared copy of The Wealth of Nations.

In a recent Politico piece (one that mistakes wonkery for overall intelligence), readers are asked, is Rick Perry dumb? “He is not an ideas man,” Politico explains. He “hasn’t spent his political career marking up the latest Cato or Heritage white papers or reading policy-heavy books late into the night. Advisers and colleagues have informed much of his thinking over the years.”

Listen, I love reading a Cato white paper as much as the next guy, but that doesn’t make me smart; it makes me tragically boring. No doubt President Barack Obama picked up his sad conviction in redistributionist economics perusing stacks of white papers — highlight marker within reach — but his presidency was won on crude progressive populism anchored in emotion, not reason. Policy ideas had little to do with Obama’s election victory, though they have almost everything to do with his failures as president.

I’ve not seen or heard enough of Perry to form any opinion on his intellect — and if he instituted policies that I agreed with, I, like most Americans, wouldn’t give one whit what his IQ was, but politicians, by their nature, are not intellectually curious, save their ability to twist their opponent’s beliefs for political gain. Elections, after all, are about pandering, not thinking.

That doesn’t make them “dumb.” What makes a person dumb is repeating mistakes when all the evidence tells him to stop for his own good. We will witness this human shortcoming when the president rolls out his new “stimulus” package. Some ideas, goes George Orwell’s saying, are so dumb only intellectuals can believe them.

On the other hand, reflexive anti-intellectualism (a misguided belief on the right that was spurred by having to share the word “intellectual” with Cornel West) is also destructive. If you’re going to propose more than hope in 2012 — say, some policy — you have to be prepared with scholarly backup.

If a candidate asserts that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and a “monstrous lie,” I may agree (because I read Cato white papers!), but he’d better have some innovative ideas to offer voters instead — ideas that can pithily and reassuringly convince baby boomers they won’t be cracking open dog food canisters to survive in a few years. Decades of reliance on flawed New Deal policies doesn’t just end. They need to be reformed or replaced — unlikely as that is to happen.

When a candidate claims that Medicare is another “fraudulent” system “designed to take in a lot of money at the front and pay out none in the end,” he sure is right, but he’d better be able to deftly handle policy questions and transcend talking points — which, it seems to me, is all Perry has offered so far.

This requires the only form of intelligence that matters in politics: the ability to synthesize complex ideas and sell them to us.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Blaze. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him. Follow him on Twitter: @davidharsanyi.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.