After the University of Alabama beat Louisiana State University at football a few weeks ago, an LSU fan named Smith in southern Alabama called his pal Williams, an Alabama fan, to vent his rage. An argument ensued. Heated words were exchanged. An agitated Smith decided to go to Williams’ house and settle the argument in person. He took his wife with him. Also a gun. Williams was waiting for him. With a shotgun. (I have no idea whether these yokels were members of the NRA, but I wouldn’t be surprised.)
One thing led to another and before you knew it Williams had shot Smith dead. Also Smith’s wife. The lesson being that Southerners take their football very seriously.
BUT FOOTBALL isn’t the only thing southerners take seriously. There’s also Nutball Republican politics, the intellectual home of Republicans known as “the base.”
John McCain didn’t carry many states but, with the exception of the relatively unpopulated mountain-west states and Alaska, they were all in the South. Basically, he was elected president of the Confederate States of America. (Congratulations, John!)
Not coincidentally, at this writing, the five top college football teams all come from the former Confederacy, as do 15 of the top 25.
Here is my point:
You don’t have to be dumb to think of football as a life-and-death matter, but it helps. So too with reactionary conservatism.
The Republican Party has become the party of dumb. Oh, you can deny it, you Republicans out there but for years now, your candidates have played the dumb card. No matter what the question—George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, global warming, Freedom Fries, stem cell research, Dan Quayle, evolution, Star Wars—you’ve always come down on the dumb side of the answer.
WITH THE RESULT that there’s been a gradual dumbing down of the party until the only places that really bought what John McCain was selling were places where people kill people over football games.
You’ve heard of liberal bias? (If you watch Fox News, you’ve heard of little else.) Conservatives argue that the public was bamboozled into voting for Obama by a biased liberal media.
Not so. (Do you really think America is sitting on the edge of its chair, waiting to get its marching orders from Tom Brokaw?)
Journalists may have a barely discernible liberal outlook—no more than a slight tilt—but their real bias is toward smart. They almost always favor the candidate whom they perceive to be smarter than the other guy. And it’s seldom the Republican.
On the other hand, there are media outlets whose bias is toward dumb. Fox News leaps to mind of course, but there is also the New York Post, The Washington Times, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, the Pittsburg Tribune-Review, William Kristol of The New York Times of all places, and AM radio. Republican supporters all.
ANY OF THESE entities, given the choice, will take dumb over smart every time. Indeed, Rush Limbaugh (a famous football fan, by the way) defended his title as the Prince of Dumb the other day by claiming that Barack Obama had caused the current economic mess.
“The Obama recession is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen,” he said on his radio show. That’s dumber than even William Kristol would go.
I suppose the GOP could start lurching back to smart in an effort to win back voters but it seems to be going the other way. They’re already talking up Sarah for president in 2012. Many smart conservatives—George Will, Colin Powell, Christopher Buckley, Chuck Hagel—are jumping ship.
I think, maybe, Republicans will have to be content to win football games rather than elections from now on. And not shoot each other. They can’t afford to lose any more true believers.
Don Kaul is a 2-time Pulitzer Prize-losing Washington correspondent who, by his own account, is right more than he’s wrong. firstname.lastname@example.org
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