KATHLEEN PARKER: Political advantage goes to the underestimated

By Kathleen Parker

NEW YORK – Are Republicans stupid? This seems to be the question du jour. Chris Matthews entertained this idea with guests recently, pointing to several Republican presidential candidates as evidence. How else to explain why so many in the GOP seem proud of their know-nothingness, as Matthews put it?
As an example, he showed a clip of Texas Gov. Rick Perry bragging to an audience of students that he was in the top 10 in his graduating class of … dumdeedumdeedumdeedum … 13! Chortle, chortle. Or rather, yahoo and hell yeah!
We are reminded of George W. Bush making similar fun of himself by noting in a commencement speech that anyone can grow up to be president. Even a solid C student such as himself.
This sort of reverse braggadocio is mysterious to Democrats who pride themselves these days on being members of the “smart” party.
There are, of course, lots of ways to be smart and lots of ways to be dumb. We often talk about book smarts and street smarts, as though the two are mutually exclusive.
We know these things, yet we seem to have fallen in love with the notion that only book smarts matter when it comes to the nation’s problems. At least Democrats have. Republicans, despite having a few brainiacs in their midst, have taken the opposite approach, emphasizing instead the value of being just regular folk. In GOP circles, being an ordinary American is viewed as superior to being one of those egg-headed elitists.
Distilled, this is really a brains-vs.-gut question – erudite theorist vs. plainspoken doer – not that the two need be mutually exclusive.
Republicans have earned some of the ridicule aimed their way. Many are willing to dumb themselves down to win the support of the party’s base, preferring to make fun of evolution and global warming rather than take the harder route of explaining, for example, that a “theory” when applied to evolution has a specific scientific meaning. It isn’t just some random idea cooked up in a frat house. It is far easier to say what is pleasing to the ear than what is true. Even so, anyone who thinks Republicans are stupid is missing the point. What those dummies Bush and Perry have in common, other than having been Texas governors, pilots and cheerleaders (what is it with Texas?), is that they’re not stupid at all.
This doesn’t mean they’re right about everything or even most things. But they’re smart enough to know that most people in this country didn’t go to Ivy League colleges – or any college for that matter. Most haven’t led privileged lives of any sort, but nonetheless have unspoiled hearts and are willing to help any who would help themselves.
This is the essence of the so-called ordinary American. Self-reliant, individualistic, entrepreneurial, neighborly and strong. These people come in both Republican and Democratic flavors, though we’ve somehow lost sight of that in these hyper-partisan, sound-bite times.
Until someone emerges to remind Americans of who they are in a way that neither insults their intelligence nor condescends to their less- fortunate circumstances, smart money goes to the “stupid” politicians, who are dumb as foxes and happy as clams when their opponents misunderestimate them.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.