Governor Palin’s Intelligence vs. President Obama’s Intellectualism

” Credentialed ignorance is still ignorance” – Thomas Sowell

Another one of the memes that has been swirling about over the past two plus years is that Governor Palin is stupid and embraces anti-intellectualism. This meme was pushed especially hard last week. Barbara Walters twice brought up that people see Governor Palin as “uninformed” in her recent interview with Governor Palin. In this same interview, Walters asked the Governor what she reads, rehashing the tired and disrespectful question first asked by Katie Couric over two years ago. When Governor Palin answered that enjoys reading C.S. Lewis, some in the punditocracy as an indication that she was indeed some kind of rube only capable of reading children’s books. In the minds of the punditocracy, this must mean that Governor Palin runs from intelligent, mature thought like President Obama runs from a post-meeting press conference, never mind that Lewis is a renowned Christian theologian and apologist.

The critics of Governor Palin’s intelligence miss the distinct difference between intelligence and intellectualism. Intelligence involves the ability to process and apply information in a successful manner. By comparison, Thomas Sowell, an esteemed economist, author, and favorite of Governor Palin’s, describes intellectualism: “at the core of the notion of an intellectual is the dealer in ideas, as such–not the personal application of ideas”. In 2009, Sowell wrote a book entitled Intellectuals and Society where he highlights how the role of “intellectuals” have negatively influenced all aspects of society–from economics to law to the media. The common thread that runs through each aspect that Sowell covers in his book is that intellectuals feel that they are needed to dictate to the unwashed masses how they should conduct their lives. This is where you get the intellectual politicians who feel that they should control the economy through regulations, taxation, and the like, and this is also where you get the pontificating pundits who feel that they know best. After all, they have the Ivy League education and the self-declared credentials to do so, right?

If you’ll excuse the personal anecdote, let me digress for a moment. My dad is a farmer turned city bus driver who has great mechanical skills. A good friend of mine received his degree in mechanical engineering and was one class away from having a second major in physics. My friend was fascinated by my dad’s ability to fix cars and farm machinery. My friend could complete all the calculus and understood the physics behind the mechanics of a car’s engine, but he could not change his oil much less fix a car. The intellectuals and pontificators of the world would likely gush over my friend’s engineering background while they would likely poo poo my dad’s high school education and career choices. However, my dad could fix a car while my friend couldn’t. I don’t say this to bash my friend, but to make a distinction between intellectualism and intelligence put into practice.

What does this have to do with politics? The two most recent presidents who were college professors at some point in their careers were Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama–two of the most liberal, big government presidents in our nation’s history. By comparison, Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan, former presidents from similar eras in our history as the preceding example, were a farm boy and actor respectively who ushered in pro-growth, small government principles that lead to prosperous economic times. In the eyes of the intelligentsia, Wilson and Obama would be seen as the smart guys due to their educational and/or professional backgrounds. However, as in car mechanics, successful political policies don’t lie in algorithms or theory. Car problems can’t be fixed based solely upon calculation of engineering formulas in a controlled environment, nor can economies be improved through theory and central control.

The Obama administration has ushered in a lot of big government initiatives in the last nearly two years. They tried to stimulate the economy through a huge spending bill that attempted to implement a lot of green initiatives because the intellectuals told them that climate change was legitimate, settled science. This same bill included a lot of strings-attached programs that required states to adhere to federal regulations because the intellectuals in DC felt they needed the control. The Obama administration has, of course, also signed legislation that essentially led to far greater control over health care–1/6 of the American economy. With this legislation, the intellectual bureaucrats of the federal government will have greater control of health care in America through various Medicare panels and comparative effectiveness boards. Why did the Obama administration pass these massive bills that provided greater control to intellectuals and bureaucrats? Perhaps it is because the Obama administration has so many intellectuals/bureaucrats embedded in it. In fact, more than 90% of cabinet appointees have only public sector experiences. Because so many of his appointees have been involved in government so long, they feel that more governmental control is the answer to America’s problems rather than individuals and private sector businesses. On the other hand, Governor Palin feels that including people with private sector backgrounds is necessary, as she stated in a recent interview with Jedediah Bila in describing an ideal 2012 Presidential candidate (emphasis mine):

“Someone who’s willing to take some risks in terms of bringing in people who aren’t the known bureaucrats, but people with private sector experience who know how to run a business, make payroll, balance a budget, and live within your means.” According to Palin, the candidate should also have “that steel spine, thick skin, not worrying about what it is that the adversaries are going say about you” and an understanding that “it is the people who hire you, who elect you, whom you are beholden to.”

In other words, Governor Palin advocates hiring individuals who have actually accomplished something in the real world, not people who haven’t held a job outside the public sector. Perhaps this provides the perfect dichotomy between Governor Palin and President Obama. Governor Palin was intelligent enough to negotiate the largest private sector infrastructure in America’s history. President Obama was intellectual enough to sign a bill that had the government essentially takeover 1/6 of the American economy. Governor Palin was intelligent enough to put $6 billion dollars into state savings. President Obama was intellectual enough to add more to the national deficit than all of his predecessors combined. Governor Palin was intelligent enough to re-vamp the public employee retirement system to make it more solvent. President Obama has been intellectual enough to appease the unions at every step.

I’ll take intelligence over intellectualism any day.

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