Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin's Smarts

Toastmaster clubs devote a portion of their meetings to "table topics," which basically involves practice in impromptu speaking. While the specific practice of different clubs or individual meetings may vary, generally a "topics master" will ask a question and call upon someone to respond to it with a 1-2 minute off the cuff speech in response.

Tonight, one of our left of center members was presented a question related to Sarah Palin. She responded with a rant along the lines of, well, Sarah Palin is so stupid, you don't want me to get started talking about this.


Todd Zywicki, reacting to and mostly agreeing with themes developed by Randall Hoven, wonders why it has become commonly supposed by many on the left and some on the right that Gov. Palin is not bright. After all, for someone who is allegedly not all that bright, she has accomplished a great deal. He writes:

The meme that has arisen that Sarah Palin isn't smart enough to be Vice-President (and potentially President) strikes me as quite implausible. Focusing on the big picture: she has been an extraordinarily successful governor with substantial policy accomplishments in a short time, she has an 85% approval rating, and she knocked off an incumbent and former governor to be elected. And, as I've previously discussed, based on my experience working with and in government, being governor of a state is an extremely difficult job, much more difficult than being a Senator (for instance). Sure there are some things that people are picking at, such as the trooper story or what really happened with the Bridge to Nowhere--but none of those things raise any doubt about her intellect or ability. With respect to the issues to which she has set herself to mastering and implementing, and the most important issues for Alaska, by all accounts she has an extremely strong understanding and mastery of the issues. It is simply not plausible to believe that she is dumb any more than it was credible that Ronald Reagan was dumb back when the establishment said the same thing about him.

Mr. Zywicki reasonably concludes that some people underestimate Gov. Palin's intelligence -- and overlook Sen. Joe Biden's impressive lack of it -- because of a confusion as to what intelligence looks like:

My sense is that Hoven is on the right track. Some thoughtful people simply have a tendency to confuse intelligence with the ability to be glib, or more precisely, to bs. And I think that is much of what it comes down to--if Palin doesn't know the answer to a question, she just isn't that good at making something up. Biden, by contrast, is a master bs'er, as his debate performance exhibited. As a general rule, the less informed he was about the answer to a question, the more assertive he was in answering it, such as his extraordinary answer about the legislative role of the Vice-President. It is clear that he had not the slightest idea what he was talking about, yet he just plowed ahead throwing out assertions with rhetorical flair. Classic bs. Even on issues that were supposedly in his area of expertise, such as the Constitution, he wasn't even in the ballpark of being correct. Hoven picks up on Biden's whopper of answer about kicking Hezbollah out of Lebanon, but it is pretty much the same thing--aggressive bs covering a complete lack of any clue what he is talking about.

I had a professor in graduate school that some of my fellow students described as being "brilliant." I always thought that he was smart enough to have earned his Ph.D, but, with all respect, I never thought of him as being in any way outstanding. To be perfectly frank, the professor wore coke bottle glasses and was boring, and I always thought that my fellow students thought that he was brilliant because he had an appearance and style that some see as being professorial in an old school sense.

Regardless of the accuracy of that judgment, anyone speaking dismissively of the Governor would seem not to have taken into account all of the facts.


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