From our overstocked archives
Sam Smith, 2010 - One
of the reasons that Barack Obama was elected was that many people thought he
was extremely intelligent. And they assumed that meant he would also be
Unfortunately, these two qualities - while not necessarily mutually exclusive -
are not necessarily synonymous, either. In fact, we have found ourselves stuck
with an highly intelligent president running perhaps the most incompetent
Democratic administration of living memory.
But this is far from a problem exclusive to Obama. For the past few decades,
Washington has increasingly become a haven for smart people doing stupid
things. And because the capital's media has joined the fun, this is not readily
apparent to the public. A linqua unfranka has developed to cover up what's
Thus you will not hear about it in the media or read about it in books.
Nonetheless, the overwhelming proportion of damage done to our republic in
recent decades has been the work of a dead center extremely proud of its
intelligence. We rightfully rail against Palin, Beck and Boenner, but easily
forget that, for all their faults, they are but vultures picking at the remains
of casualties largely caused by an establishment that smugly prides itself on
its intellect, judgment and moderation.
Whether it’s fifty years of failed wars, a disastrous reliance on the myths of
the market economy, the costly and damaging drug war, or the loss of
constitutional rights and civil liberties, one would be hard pressed to find
more than the occasional instance when the likes the Brookings Institution, the
Council on Foreign Relations, or the Washington Post were significantly on the
right side of a matter of real importance to Americans.
It is fair to say, in fact, that never in our national history has so much well
educated intelligence gone to such waste and done so much damage. Factors
include the enormous rise of the lawyer class in the capital, an obsession with
preventing or finding error rather than with taking action, a fundamentalist
faith in various economic and political theories, an inability to look at
matters inductively, a culture that acts as though it is always on TV, the
blackmail of politicians through campaign contributions, the repeated
replacement of facts with spin, compromise without a prior course from which to
judge sensibly the compromise, too many managers and not enough doers, a media
embedded in the power structure it is supposed to keep track of, the collapse
of liberalism and the Democratic Party, and the scarcity of social
Intelligent people in Washington who have not betrayed, suppressed or ignored
their intelligence are typically ignored, dismissed or ridiculed. To be
inquisitive, skeptical, reflective and wise is more likely to place one in a
Homeland Security file than in a place of honor.
Which is why smart people in Washington do stupid things. And why it's up to
the rest of the country to straighten them out.