We all like to think of ourselves as well-informed voters. We weigh the issues, consider all sides of each argument, exercise our rational faculties, and arrive at a dispassionate judgment about where we stand.
And yet, we are not really the independent, autonomous individuals we take ourselves to be. We are social beings, people for whom membership in the right group can spell the difference between success and oblivion. Therefore, we suffer the influence of others far more than we would like to think.
In the Color War of American politics-- red team vs. blue team-- we are especially concerned with being part of the right team. The right team might be the winning team, but for many people it is the team that is associated with higher status and higher intelligence.
If you have allowed yourself to be convinced that the red team is filled with dumb and dumber rubes, you will be less likely to want to join. If the blue team, as liberal commentators and bloggers incessantly insist, is populated by brilliant, serious thinkers you will be happy to sign on and pledge allegiance.
In many of America's more serious precincts-- like Manhattan Island-- members of the red team find that their intelligence, their rationality and their character are impugned on a daily basis.
It is not an accident, and certainly not the result of deep reflection, that Manhattan Island is overwhelmingly liberal in its politics.
How do you enforce this level of intellectual conformity? By shaming, of course. People who inveigh against shaming as a social sanction are more than happy to call their political opponents illiterate, ignorant, stupid, ridiculous, and dumb.
And they often add a bit of character assassination: the red team is so stupid that its members have lost their rational judgment to the invading and occupying forces of dark emotion.
They are angry, enraged, irrational, and stupid. Why would you want to associate with such people, no less belong to their team?
Emotional incontinence is a character flaw. Unless, of course, it is demonstrated by a member of the blue team.
Remember the now famous rant by Mad Anthony Weiner on the floor of the House of Representatives. Mad Anthony simply lost it; he looked like he was going to have a stroke; he was foaming at the mouth about some issue or other.
Since Mad Anthony belongs to the blue team, his emotional incontinence was not a sign of weak character. It showed how deeply he felt about whatever he was ranting about. Truth be told, the source of all irrationality lies with the red team. Thus, Mad Anthony lost control because he was frustrated by the obtuse failure of the red team to listen to the voice of calm reason.
More recently, comedian David Letterman, not exactly an intellectual titan,. told Jon Stewart that he could not imagine how Bill O'Reilly could believe what he says he believes.
Thus is a certain order and discipline enforced on the blue team. Letterman was saying that no intelligent person could believe the things that O'Reilly believes.
Don't ask who or what made David Letterman the arbiter of intellectual illumination. He belongs to the blue team, and therefore, his judgments are supposed to be coming down to us from a higher intellectual plane. He does not have to explain what O'Reilly believes; he does not have to explain why O'Reilly is wrong.
Fellow members of the blue team know that he is one of them. They are all, dare I say, in on the joke. Because it really is something of an in-joke.
While we're talking about today's politics, how would you describe the blue team approach to the election? One of their basic tactics is to tar the red team with guilt by association with Christine O'Donnell.
O'Donnell's intelligence is derided on a daily basis-- not always without reason-- to the point where anyone who utters a word of support for her candidacy will immediately be labeled an imbecile.
Derision, scorn, and ridicule count among the most important shaming tactics. They are politically effective.
Keep in mind, if you belong to the party of imbeciles your views are of interest only in so far as they signify your lack of intelligence. Beyond their value as symptoms, they should be ignored.
Given this aspect of political discourse, ask yourself this: which team would you like to belong to? The one that is led by a Harvard Law grad or the one that seems to be led by an Idaho State grad? Your choice.
And note this. When members of the blue team exclaim their satisfaction at seeing the White House in the hands of Ivy League educated intellectuals, they are also saying that if these people can't get it right, then things have gone so serious awry that no one could ever get it right.
I have offered this prologue to introduce Charles Blow. In the New York Times this morning Blow begins his column by remarking that liberals spend considerable time and energy stigmatizing their opponents for stupidity and ignorance. Link here.
It's not exactly news, but it is somewhat surprising to see it in the New York Times.
Be that as it may, Blow's next point will surely come as an unpleasant surprise to many Times readers. He informs us of the inconvenient fact that the most ignorant and uninformed segment of the American electorate is... you guessed it... the Democratic base.
Blow does not have information about relative IQ or aptitude, so he limits himself to what he calls, felicitously, civic literacy. Which voters are better informed about basic political realities?
In his words: "The unpleasant facts that these liberals rarely mention, and may not know, is that large swaths of the Democratic base, groups they need to vote in droves next months-- blacks, Hispanics and young people-- are far less civically literate than their conservative counterparts."
As for the "progressive" brand that these erstwhile liberals have recently adopted as their own, Blow remarks: "According to a Gallup poll released in July, most Democrats didn't even seem to know what a progressive was...."
Uh, oh. Somehow you start to think that these great progressive minds do not have a clue about how the majority of their fellow blue team members think.
Anyway, Blow offers some advice to Obama. If Obama wants to appeal to the Democratic base, he needs to stop appealing to their intelligence and start appealing to their emotions. He must excite them by manipulating their fear and anger. That way, they will be more likely to turn out on election day.
Given the nature of the blue team, Charles Blow is probably right.
[A warm welcome to those of you who have arrived here via Instapundit and Dr. Helen. My special thanks to Prof. Glenn Reynolds and Dr. Helen Smith for linking this post.]