Stupid is as stupid does

STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES…. Ben Smith notes in an interesting piece today that at least some of the 2010 elections have “devolved” into a battle “over who’s stupid, and who’s a snob.” Ben raises some fair points, but I’m not sure the premise is persuasive.

Republican candidates have served up their share of bloopers — humanoid mice, sunspots causing climate change — and Democrats have taken the expected delight in their opponents’ stumbles. But they’ve taken their mockery one step further — contending as a part of their closing argument that the tea party movement, its champion Sarah Palin, and the left’s favorite Republican candidate, Christine O’Donnell, are, frankly, dumb. […]

In doing so, [Democrats have] also brought to light some of the party’s most self-destructive tendencies, the elitism and condescension that Bill Clinton sought to purge in the 1990s, when he matched a progressive agenda with the persona of a likeable “Bubba” to win two terms. Not many Democrats could pull it off.

The most striking problem with the argument is that Ben questions the utility of Democrats accusing Republicans of being dumb, but proceeds to note exactly zero examples of Democrats accusing Republicans of being dumb. Literally, none.

Indeed, it was rather jarring reading the piece. Ben argues, “Waging battle over the Politics of Dumbness may not be smart for Democrats,” which may be true. But before we can evaluate whether such a strategy has merit, it’s worth appreciating the fact that not one Democrat was mentioned waging a battle over the Politics of Dumbness.

Ben notes examples of Republicans being mocked by Maureen Dowd, Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, but this group has two things in common: (1) they’re all in media, where highlighting politicians’ stupidity is expected (two are comedians, where this is practically mandatory); and (2) none of them are Democrats in any formal, organized sense. They’re not candidates; they’re not campaigning; and they haven’t made any endorsements. It’s not even clear if all four will be voting for Democrats.

If four media figures — two of whom are on Comedy Central — are the best examples of “Democrats” mocking Republicans as dumb as “part of their closing argument,” then there’s almost certainly a problem with the premise.

And if the premise is wrong, there’s probably no point in arguing further, but I also can’t help but wonder: what happens if a candidate, of either party, really is dumb? By that I mean, if there’s a genuinely stupid person on the ballot, seeking a powerful public office, is it really so outrageous to think the candidate’s rival party and/or opponent might want to make that a campaign issue? Shouldn’t voters hear about this before actual morons hold key public offices?

Under the circumstances, I think Ben may actually have this backwards — given some of the conspicuously unintelligent candidates who’ve won GOP primaries this year, I’m amazed at how much restraint Democrats have shown. The question isn’t whether Dems made a mistake mocking Republican idiocy this year; the question is whether Dems made a mistake by neglecting to go after Republican idiocy this year.