It’s like clockwork. As soon as a Republican primary season starts to heat up, the national media likes to uncase its three narratives about presidential contenders. They’re either weird (Romney), scary (Bachmann), or idiots. Guess who gets the idiot treatment this time?
Another Texas governor who drops his “g’s” and scorns elites is running for president and the whispers are the same: Lightweight, incurious, instinctual.
Strip away the euphemisms, and Rick Perry is confronting an unavoidable question: is he dumb – or just misunderestimated?
Doubts about Perry’s intellect have hounded him since he was first elected as a state legislator nearly three decades ago. In Austin, he’s been derided as a right-place, right-time pol who looks the part but isn’t so deep – “Gov. Goodhair.” Now, with the chatter picking back up among his enemies and taking flight in elite Republican circles, the rap threatens to follow him to the national stage.
“He’s like Bush only without the brains,” cracked one former Republican governor who knows Perry, repeating a joke that has made the rounds.
Yeah, except that wasn’t Bush ridiculed for not being terribly smart in both of his election cycles? The same media that seems to think that Barack Obama’s college transcripts are irrelevant perused Bush’s with a singular intensity. And while his grades weren’t exactly inspired, he managed to get a baccalaureate from Yale and an MBA from Harvard.
And similarly, we heard endlessly about the “amiable dunce” Ronald Reagan both during and after his presidency. He was treated as though he had stumbled into and out of office as California’s governor, then lucked into two terms as President. Like Perry (and Romney), the press seemed more interested in talking about his hair than his clearly-articulated political philosophies. Even to this day, some people — many fewer than before, but still a significant number — claim he was just lucky to be in office when the Soviet Union started its final collapse. It took the late release of Reagan’s writings to remind people of the intellectual approach he took to politics and his fervent anti-communist philosophies.
Even George H. W. Bush wasn’t immune from the treatment. While no one questioned his education and intellect per se, the media made a big deal about Bush’s questions about a grocery scanner during a visit to a market. Snopes has a good analysis of this 1988 incident, where the New York Times essentially concocted the notion that Bush knew nothing about grocery scanners and that he was clueless about everyday America. Andrew Rosenthal’s article was dripping with class-warfare imagery and scorn:
Today, for instance, [Bush] emerged from 11 years in Washington’s choicest executive mansions to confront the modern supermarket.
The catch? Rosenthal hadn’t even been at the event. Bush wasn’t amazed at the scanner — he was “amazed” at the new scanning technology that could read damaged bar codes. But the New York Times had decided on its narrative, and stuck to it.
So now Perry gets the amiable-dunce treatment, although the press will probably leave the “amiable” part out. Perry has been governor for three terms and the latter part of Bush’s interrupted second term, more than 11 years in a high-profile office. That leaves plenty of room to debate his record, but his rumored lack of brainpower has mysteriously not kept him from successfully running one of the largest, most populous, and most visible states in the Union. Perry went through a high-profile primary fight in 2010 against US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison without the press discovering this supposed intellectual defect, but now that he’s running for President, we are supposed to believe that Perry has lost 30 IQ points?
Notice that these memes never get applied on the other side of the aisle, either. Did any media question Obama’s intelligence when during the campaign when he made these whoppers?
- The Selma March in 1965 did not contribute to his birth in 1961.
- Kansas tornadoes in May 2007 killed 12 people, not “ten thousand”.
- Afghans do not speak Arabic.
- Within 24 hours, Obama reversed his assertion that Iran did not pose a “serious threat” to the US to an assertion that the threat is “grave”.
- “On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in the audience here today — our sense of patriotism is particularly strong.”
- 57 states
No, they didn’t. Why? Because the media only uses the weird, scary, and idiot memes for Republican candidates, that’s why.