Jonah Goldberg wrote a column about the recent attacks on Rick Perry, arguing that identity politics on the right are "intensely wearying" and "conservatism needs to spend less time defending candidates for who they are, and more time supporting candidates for what they intend to do." Of course, this is very difficult to do so long as the media is "equat[ing] funny accents with stupidity, and they automatically assume someone who went to Texas A&M must be dumber than someone who went to Yale."
For those on the right, just about the only thing more intensely wearying than having to constantly defend conservatives from ridiculous attacks from the Beltway establishment is constantly having to play journalism cop. But honestly, I don't know what to do with today's Politico story, which -- hand to God -- carries the headline, "Is Rick Perry Dumb?"
Reporter Jonathan Martin is usually reasonably fair to conservatives. Perhaps he didn't write the headline, and Martin quotes a number of Perry defenders in the piece.
But the very premise is galling and, whether Martin intended it to be this way or not, inherently discrediting. For instance, Martin doesn't really delve into what his baseline is for assessing intelligence. But one suspects that Perry's critics here have an awfully superficial definition of what that might be. Whether he prefers, say, Vince Flynn paperbacks to Jonathan Franzen novels is a red herring. To quote Perry himself, "actions speak louder than words." The longest serving governor of America's second largest state should not have to answer questions about his basic capabilities at this point. But Perry's critics have a hard time discrediting him with his actions as a governor, so now they're just throwing out the accusation that he's dumb knowing full well that someone in the media will take the bait. (Pro-tip: A question mark in the headline always provides a fig leaf of objectivity.)
There's certainly an argument to be made that our constitutional law professor in chief doesn't appear to be the most candent star in the intellectual Milky Way. Yet, we were told his endless intelligence would overcome his total lack of executive experience and governing achievements. Just before he took office, none other than David Broder declared "Obama's intellect serves country well," observing that "for a nation in crisis, it is worth giving thanks for the performance the new president has turned in so far — and for the mind that is working on the nation's behalf." But fear not, now that it's abundantly clear that Obama's presidency is failing the lords of conventional wisdom that bring in psychology professors to tell us "what distinguishes Obama particularly is the depth and carefulness of his thinking, which renders him somewhat unfit for politics." That's right -- he's too smart for his own good!
There's the very real possibility that voters will prefer tangible achievements to intellect when assessing the presidential candidates, and to the extent those things are related, a 9 percent unemployment rate is one heck of an I.Q. test. (Or Texas' record of job creation for that matter.) So then it's no surprise the president's defenders want to make this election about intangible qualities such as intelligence rather than achievements. That's because they can rely on the media to define the former on favorable terms, and the president can't run on his record.