Stupid is as stupid does

Too often, voters make the serious mistake of assuming that political candidates and elected officials are smart.

Most of them aren’t. In fact, many of them are dumber than fence posts. I’ve covered politicians as a journalist and worked with them as a political operative for more than 40 years now and can count on one hand the number with IQs above that of a two-minute egg.

Take George Allen, the Virginia Senator and wannabe President. A few weeks ago, he noticed a young man with a video camera in the crowd at a campaign rally. He knows the guy is a campaign operative for his opponent yet he makes a fool of himself on videotape by referring to the young native Virginian of Indian descent as "Macaca," an ethnic slur against those of Indian heritage.

To most people, common sense would dictate that you don’t issue ethnic slurs while your opposition is videotaping you. Common sense, however, is not found in most political campaign plans.

Common sense says Allen would not come up to a political action committee representative at a Washington fundraiser and call Afro-Americans "niggers." But Allen did. I know. I was the PAC rep he said that to in 1991.

Common sense says you don’t base your political career on being a Southern "good-ole boy" in Virginia and then claim you never, ever, used that particular ethnic slur. Too many people would have heard you say it and those folks started coming out of the woodpile this week when Allen made that ridiculously stupid claim.

Those who defend Allen say it is not fair to nail the Senator for something he said in college or 20 years ago. Of course, these are the same people who wave an article that Allen’s opponent, former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, wrote in 1979 questioning the wisdom of women in combat. Webb didn’t help his cause with his incredibly lame response to a question about the article on a recent Meet the Press appearance.

Stupidity, I’ve found, is non-partisan.

To be fair, Allen doesn’t hold a patent on political idiocy. It’s public domain among candidates and elected officials.

Democrat Gary Hart’s ill-fated campaign for President came to a crashing halt when he challenged reporters to follow him around to see if he was cheating on his wife and those who did just that caught Washington party girl Donna Rice sneaking out of his Capitol Hill townhouse after a clandestine evening with the Senator.

Senator Paul Simon, another Democrat who wanted to be President, campaigned at a Chicago White Sox game when the team was contending for a rare appearance in the baseball playoffs. A reporter asked the Senator what he thought of the White Sox’s chances.

"Personally, I don’t care," Simon said. "I’m a Cubs fan."

The political battlefields of Washington and the nation are littered with the blood of those who spoke before they thought or turned stupidity into an art form. That bloody history includes a drunken Wilber Mills stumbling on stage to visit his stripper girlfriend, a horny Bill Clinton getting a blow job from Monica Lewinsky while chatting with world leaders and a lying Richard Nixon declaring "well, I am not a crook."

Former FBI administrator W. Mark Felt, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s shadowy source known only as "Deep Throat" for many years, may have put it best during one of his clandestine meetings with Woodward in an Arlington, Virginia, parking garage.

"Forget about the myths you and others in the media have created about the White House," Felt said. "The truth is these aren’t very bright people and things got out of hand."

Today, more than three decades later, we see constant reminders that these people still aren’t very bright and things still get out of hand.

Currently on Doug Thompson’s blog: Lies, damn lies and politicians


  1. Lets use this as a word to describe the majority of american voters-sheeple-a group of easily led people who act like a herd of sheep.
    I agree that GWB is not the brightest light around, or even the brightest of dim bulbs, but he has surrounded himself with people whose primary qualification seems to be how strong a republician they are, that is primary, nothing else matters, that is why they have so many incompetent crooks working for them.
    The entire congress is not a whole lot better-Stevens saying that the internet is not a dump truck, but a bunch of tubes- they all, dems/reps seems to be mental midgets. Like the saying goes-we got the government we deserved. The way the MSM savaged Gore in 2000(esp the “liberals”) shows how the pack will get together to savage anyone who seems to be brighter than the majority. The MSM annoints whoever they think is the “best”, but the best of what, the best of the worst perhaps. I can understand why the really smart people have no desire to run for office, they instinctively understand that the sheeple will attempt to destroy them. But I also think that this is fairly new. I believe that FDR was a very smart person(but maybe he hid his intelligence) Ike was smart, but acted as if he wasn’t,and, as you say, Carter was smart, but a failure as president, possibly because he did not hide his intelligence. Could that be the reason that the right savaged Clinton? because he was smarter than them.
    So, while we work our way down to the village idiot being elected president, can a smart person win, or are they smart enough not to try

  2. Margherite

    I’m convinced that the only avenue for change is to completely and forthrightly state the truth, whether or not it should be obvious, over and over again. This is, perhaps, your mission in life, Doug; and you do it very well.

    But I don’t know from my own experience whether a distinction can be made between the dumbness/crookedness of politicians and the dumbness/crookedness of voters. Not only am I consistently presented with a choice of the lesser of 2 evils, I am amazed by the observation that, once the election noise has quieted, how fast the partisan screamers in the voter ranks go back to their reality shows and pay-per-views as if nothing will change. That’s dumb! The connection between, for instance, rising technical un- and underemployment and congressional war chests built on high tech donations is never made.

    I had an overwhelming insight this morning, driving on I-95 on the way to work, that every scofflaw on the road running 85 in a 55 mph zone secretly idolizes the scofflaw-in-chief and the sleazes of both parties who run my country. We might never get rid of lawless dumbasses in Congress because the lawless dumbass majority in our culture worships the ones who appear to get away with it. And the ones who truly believe they can get away with it become candidates.

    They never see the cost. I occasionally do — their children end up in jails and rehabs.

  3. G.S.

    The “Father of the Constitution”, James Madison predicted our current political state. He was clear that the voting citizens would eventually surrender their rights, their community, state, and federal responsibilities to the respective political offices.

    Well, here we are living with the wreckage of the past and present. Apathy, assigning our personal responsibilities, and selling ourselves out have come to haunt us.

    Those who have figured out the political game are far from stupid. They have learned the fundamentals of obtaining power.

    We, the constituents, are stupid for allowing them to usurp our power, liberties, and general welfare.

    Stupidity isn’t part of the equation for politicians. Deception, dishonesty, manipulation, corruption, and self-serving motives are completely part of the equation, but we gave them all the power to do it.

    Who’s to blame?

  4. Judith Anderson

    There should be a qualifying test similar to that for US Citizenship before anyone can be sworn in to elected office.

    Our schools no longer teach Civics, and what is offered in terms of US and World history is often marginal.

    It is bad enough that the general population is so ignorant about our form of government, but when that ignorance also comes from those elected to office, it does not inspire confidence.

    I received a form letter back from my current US Representative a few days ago which showed total ignorance of what his role in government is supposed to be and how the division of powers is supposed to work let alone world history.

    The level of incompetence is staggering.

    No wonder we are in such a mess.

  5. Jason Shapiro

    Doug, this is a tough posting because even though I agree with virtually every word you wrote, my response is “So what?” Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were probably the two smartest people to sit in the Oval Office in the last 60 years and by any reasonable measure they both had failed presidencies. You can pick any nation at any point in history and at any location on earth and I will guarantee I can demonstrate that it was often ruled by stupid, venal, craven people who nevertheless managed to secure and hold political power. I do not know why we expect our leaders to be honest and wise when that has hardly ever occurred in human history – probably the same reason we wring our hands and wonder why “life is so unfair.” It may be that the present group of clowns is so bad (think of all the biggest schmucks you have met in your entire life and put them together – that is the current administration) that we find ourselves virtually apoplectic at the state of our national government. It will get a little better when this administration changes, but the long term prospects aren’t very good because the most capable, honest, and intelligent people are never going to get within a mile of an election – that’s why they are so intelligent!

  6. Wobba

    If all the crooked politicians are so stupid, why do they get away with so much?

    Well, because we, as a culture and a people, are even stupider. We don’t give a $#1+ that our leaders are crooked, and we’re intimidated by and hostile towards anyone who presents himself as smarter than the average rock. So we idiots elect the biggest idiot among us to be our chief, and then look the other way when he blatantly, stupidy fumbles while trying to rip us off. At least he isn’t smarter than us, we think.

    That’s what we get, and that’s what we as a people deserve. The smart ones among us should get out while they can.

  7. And Americans are bright? Why do Americans trudge off to the polls consistently voting for this mob of illiterates. It is because Americans are just like those they vote for. More importantly, however, if a truly bright person did run for president, he would be slashed to ribbons for being anti-Semitic, truly boring, or a “do nothing” President. And he would never be caught reading about goats in a classroom.

  8. Greg

    Dumb? I say some are actually criminal geniuses! Remember, they have STOLEN the last 2 presidential elections, and no one batted an eyelash in this country, anyway!

  9. South Point Man

    What’s even more galling than the dumbassedness (Is that a word? It is now. Add it to the dictionary.) is the sheer evilness that’s been going on.

    Just what the (censored) is the fascination for evilness?

    Why not do things the way they should be done instead of (censored)ing everything up by doing things the evil way?

    Doing things the way they should be done gives much longer lasting and pleasing results, so it’s not like it’s any actual more effort…

    And most to the point, doing things the evil way is completely dishonorable.

    And who would want the reputation of being dishonorable?

  10. Isn’t it time to have a national endowoment for the education of crooks? The media can’t cover up everthing forever.

    Why are crooks so fascinating. Crooks are the stuff of television because they create dramatic and comic complications between commercials. (The media are the biggest and cleverest crooks of all)

  11. Lori

    South Point Man,

    honor is not an issue with these folks. Power is the only thing that matters. Money is right up there too, mainly because it provides ammunition for achieving power.

  12. keith

    Doug, you may well be right about the stupidity of politicians.

    But, my own personal observations have shown that most of these people also posses overwhelming egos…with a pinch of arrogance mixed in with a whole boatload of “I’m better than you”. I see it in the smirk and animated comments of our esteemed President (particularly when some reporter corners him with the truth). And, like you, I see it in both Republicans and Democrats.

    After all, these people arrogantly believe that they are the only ones gifted enough to run our lives for us.

  13. it’s interesting – one of the few bright Presidents we’ve had in my lifetime (Jimmy Carter) was also one of the least effective. With the exceptions of Mr. Bush and Mr. Nixon, most of the others have managed to surround themselves with enough bright people that one doesn’t notice the 15Watt appliance bulb over their head, representing an idea ….
    I do believe, however, that with Mr. George W. Bush we’ve found an all time intellectual low in the oval office – all the guy really needs is a “bubba-gump shrimp” hat and his role is complete!



  14. Michael

    In my opinion people now do not think for themselves. They let the political candidate’s think for them. Its scary to me that they know what is good for us and we are here just to pay there salaries and shut up. But also they lie. And the biggest liars are the republicans. Now I know I will get a lot of people to argue with me but this is the way I feel and I’m not going to change now. But I do agree that the voters now seem to be dumb and stupid when they vote. So I guess we may never get back to a country that has common sense.

  15. Cynthia

    We are all so starved for competent leadership that we tend to attibute to our leaders a certain secret knowledge that will reveal itself when we are in danger. No so, folks. Trust yourselves. Most people aren’t any smarter than you are.

  16. Ben Z. Shank, Jr

    I am 88 years old a combat infantry man from WW2. I was in the first draft call in our town in 1940 and served until discharged in Jan 1946 as a major.
    I enjoy you news letter very much.
    Are you still taking contributions?

  17. Carl Nemo

    Stupid yes, and most also quite crooked. It’s interesting that most American’s are drug-tested when trying to seek employment and also are screened thoroughly by many companies before they are hired. Not so with politician’s. I personally believe we need statutes that mandate; candidate’s for any public office be drug-tested and psychologically screened, along with a “thorough” background check before they can “register” as a candidate. They also need to go through periodic drug-testing etc. Why is it that people can elect someone to the Presidency or any public office based on a bunch of campaign, “jive and shuck” rhetoric and then sleep comfortably at night not knowing whether their elected official/s might be doing heavy drugs,or worse might have gone psycho while in office. What if Bush decides to invade Iran and gives his Joint Chief’s a direct order to do so against their advice?! Who’s going to stop him? Who’s going to realize that maybe the Commander-in- Chief has gone psycho and he needs to be “tranked” and taken away for serious evaluation? I would hope there would be some Secret Service patriot’s or someone at the highest levels that would protect us from a deranged leader. Anyway these are things to think about. Intelligence is surely one issue, but visualize a pol of low to average intelligence using bad drugs or excessive use of alcohol, then has possibly “flipped out”. Btw there’s nothing to cover such a scary situation as I’ve outlined. There are no checks and balances when it comes to a leader that’s gone “mad”.