Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sarah Palin's I.Q. vs. Tina Fey's Wit or Do We Want Our Leaders to be Smart?

I generally do okay on standardized tests and I.Q. tests (not a genius, but okay), and my children do okay as well on these tests, one very well. Nevertheless, I've always been suspicious of I.Q. testing because I know some whites have used the results of I.Q. group testing to claim African-Americans are less intelligent than whites. These racists would probably say my children and I score above average because we have some white ancestry. Ugh!

Despite my reservations about I.Q. testing and the possible cultural inequalities embedded in college board exams like the Scholastic Aptitude Test, I'd love to know how Sarah Palin and her running mate John McCain score on such tests. They are, after all, common Americans, as they keep reminding us, and they both come from the culture that such tests favor. (Is it possible to be a former beauty queen and a governor or to own seven houses and be married to a beer heiress yet still be "common"?)

What's Palin's I.Q.? If the rest of us are judged for jobs and school acceptance based on test scores and our school rankings, then is it any wonder that some of us want to know how well the highest leaders in the land score?

That question popped in my head when I read at that Palin doesn't care for Tina Fey playing her as a bubblehead. Palin said that she plays Fey as a bubblehead whenever she imitates her.

It's unlikely we'll ever know how Palin or McCain test on these exams that color most of our lives during academic years, but people have tried to find out just as they've delved into the health of candidates. The Republican ticket, however, gives sketchy material about McCain/Palin medical records, which is something voters should have a right to know, so I doubt they'd be open to revealing their IQs.

Think about it. If it turns out Palin's test scores are low, then that's more ammunition for people who think she's incompetent. If it turns out her scores are well above average, then she's not as Joe Six Pack as they want their constituents to think she is. If McCain's scores are low, then more ammo for opponents. If they're high, then we wonder was he a goof off at the Naval Academy where he performed poorly?

Tina Fey, who is not running for office, appears to be brainy. I think it takes brains to be funny, especially when it comes to creating political satire. Tina Fey is a wit, and her Palin impersonation is a riot. But does anything about Palin herself strike you as smart?

Okay, okay. I'll give her that she's a smart dresser, but that's only since the RNC paid for professional stylists to dress Palin and spent $150,000 on Palin's wardrobe.

I'll also concede, because I believe that we have different types of intelligence, that Palin probably would score well for social I.Q. and knowing how to manipulate people. Yes, manipulation is a skill that indicates intelligence.

But the kind of intelligence it takes to run America and keep up with complicated policies, does Palin have that? I don't think so, which is why I laughed so hard at the Palin As President game. The game creator has Palin sounding like Barbie as Village Idiot, and it's believable on some levels.

As for Palin having wit, the VP hopeful bombed on SNL last Saturday night. She doesn't do well without a written script.

However, Palin told People magazine in an interview, according to Time that she's an intellectual.
...but you don't get to be governor without being smart. Do you think you're intellectual?

Sarah: Yehhh-sss. And you have to be up on not only current events, but you have to understand the foundation of the issues that you're working on...You can't just go on what is presented you.

How do you get that knowledge?

Sarah: I'm a voracious reader, always have been. I appreciate a lot of information. I think that comes from growing up in a family of school teachers.
Hmm, did it sound like Palin reads a lot when she talked to Katie Couric? Palin tosses Couric in the "gotcha media" category, claiming Couric's questions were not fair.

But does Palin do any better answering questions from school children? Recently Palin answered a child's question about the role of the U.S. Vice President incorrectly. She said the Vice President is in charge of the Senate, which shows how simplistic she is in her thinking. She interpreted the title President of the Senate as meaning in charge of the Senate, only knowing the word in its broadest sense.

I realize she was answering in a second-grader's question, which could explain why she's speaking in such simple terms and repeating herself. But Palin's equally redundant and two-dimensional when speaking to adults. Here's a quote from her talk with Sean Hannity about the economic crisis:
PALIN: "Certainly it is a mess though, the economy is a mess. And there have been abuses on Wall Street and that adversely affects Main Street.

And it's that commitment that John McCain is articulating today, getting in there, reforming the way that Wall Street has been allowed to work, stopping the abuses and that violation of the public trust that too many CEOs and top management of some of these companies, that abuse there has got to stop.

It is, somebody was saying this morning, a toxic waste there on Wall Street, affecting Main Street. And we've got to cure this." (The Palin Plunge, HuffPo)
Sadly, Tina Fey doesn't need to do that much writing to play Palin as a bubblehead. For instance, when she impersonated Palin the first time following the Couric interview, some of her responses as Palin in the skit were verbatim what Palin said.

John McCain can't see that Palin's not so swift. In fact, he's busy blaming what he calls "the feminist left" for her downfall in America's eyes. He's also defended Palin's divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail, doesn't see its dangers. Maybe he can't see it because he's not the sharpest pencil in the box himself.

Well, perhaps his grades from the Naval Academy shouldn't come up. That was a long, long time ago, and McCain's gone far since then, but apparently not far enough to understand the American economy. He admitted last year that he doesn't understand economics, and perhaps that's why it took him so long to see we were headed for financial calamity.

Normally when writing something like this post, I'd take time with a politically correct preamble or disclaimer and clarify that I have nothing against people who aren't that bright. You know, say something like "She's dumb," and add "Not that's there's anything wrong with that!" But this is no time for that kind of PC lip service. (There's a Seinfeld episode about gay acceptance that uses "not that's there's anything wrong with that as a punch line.)

I think that if the rest of us can be kept from the schools we'd prefer to attend and the jobs we'd love to have based on I.Q. and SAT scores, then folks running for political office who appear to be idiots (based on the words from their mouths) should be scrutinized and their brainlessness evaluated. Yes, I know that we have people who are quite bright who were only "C" students in school, and I would also agree that braininess sometimes has its pitfalls. For instance, sometimes being exceptionally intelligent may come with other traits such as social ineptitude that makes for poor leadership, but seeming to be nearly dumb as a box of rocks while sitting in the oval office or the VP's seat is hardly helpful.

From what we've seen of McCain's opponent, Barack Obama, he's quite bright, however. And Obama connects to people as well. As Colin Powell and others have noted, Obama's intelligence is a plus. So, just as Obama's brilliance is an asset, McCain's and Palin's questionable brain power is a deficit.

McCain and Palin as well as their supporters seem to count their brain deficit as a plus and promote lacking intellectual prowess as a desirable trait. Consider how they paint Obama as an elitist because he graduated from Harvard, was a good student, and is an eloquent speaker. That side of populism is wonky, and leaves even some conservatives are squirming in their seats and noting what's missing beneath Palin's "folksiness."
But we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for? For seven weeks I've listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite—a spender, to speak briefly, whose political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy, and whose foreign policy is shaped by a certain emotionalism, or a conservative whose principles are rooted in philosophy, and whose foreign policy leans more toward what might be called romantic realism, and that is speak truth, know America, be America, move diplomatically, respect public opinion, and move within an awareness and appreciation of reality.

But it's unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn't think aloud. She just . . . says things. (Peggy Noonan)
Noonan has also said that the what Palin really seems to understand better than others is the show business of politics.

I've written before of my concern about Palin's type of populism in terms of her pushing the evils of otherness and its connection to nationalism. I also posted recently at BlogHer America's Dark Night of Soul, in which I express relief at the number of conservatives openly backing away from McCain because of the divisive speeches and Palin's incompetence.

When I heard Sarah Palin speak at the RNC and watched how the crowd responded, my blood chilled, and not much about McCain/Palin as changed in mind since then. I'm as convinced as ever that if we elect McCain and Palin to office, we need our heads examined, but wouldn't it be good if we could have their heads examined now and not our own later?

(BTW, I didn't mention Joe Biden in this post. While he's known as a blowhard and for gaffes, nobody calls him a dufus.)


lilalia said...

Weighing in Mr. Barack who taught law to the brightest of the brights, and Mr. McCain who came in 874 if 879 in a Navy Academy not known for its mental rigor... which one would you figure could lead people through complex and multidimensional difficulties? I'm convinced that resolutions to many of the situations the Bush administration is responsible for getting the world into will not be found in the head of someone incapable of writing an email on his own. I don't even want to think about what is going on in Ms. Palin's head.

Vérité Parlant said...

Thanks, Lilalia. Even though it appears Obama may win this election, I'm still surprised by how many people think above average intelligence and the ability to understand complex issues is not a necessary trait for the President of the United States. You'd think after watching Bush in action, we could all agree on that much.