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The Dumbing Of Americans

Tue., Jan. 10, 1995, midnight

Why do so many Americans have problems with smart people? Without a quick halt to the new crusade against smarts, it will not be long before Americans repair to the family room at the end of a long workday to watch games played by whatever professional athletes are not on strike on a network owned by a foreigner while their bosses in Japan, Korea, France or other foreign land spend their evening figuring out which hoops their American work force should jump through next.

Not convinced that anti-intellectualism is an emerging threat? The evidence of hostility against the eggheaded is all around you.

The Republican Party seems on the verge of making warfare against the brainy an appendix to its Contract with America. Everyone on the strident right, from Patrick Buchanan to Rush Limbaugh, is on the assault against a group they have dubbed “the cognitive elite.”

Last month on David Brinkley’s Sunday morning TV show, George Will straightened his bow tie, put on his best “man of the people” look and sourly inquired of Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., what he proposed to do about the fact that an information-intensive society “rewards education so that a cognitive elite gets more and more wealth.” Rather than convulse with laughter, Gephardt agreed with Will that rewarding bright people is a problem.

A few weeks ago, “Bell Curve” author Charles Murray, the pseudoscientific darling of racists everywhere, held forth against the intelligent, among whose ranks he apparently does not number himself.

“We cannot get rid of the cognitive elite,” Murray mused, “but we can and must take away its place to stand.”

The battle against brains is not confined to political pundits who rail against the clever while scurrying to the bank to deposit the high salaries, big lecture fees and book advances they garner for portraying themselves as intelligent. The jihad against gray matter is on display at your local movie decaplex and on your television.

A current box-office smash is tellingly titled “Dumb and Dumber.” The between-the-lines message of the movies “IQ” and “Forrest Gump” is that true wisdom is to found among the intellectually disadvantaged rather than among the ranks of those who aced their SATs.

A few hours contemplating most of what is on the commercial TV networks will convince you that those who control the box believe only dopes and dolts deserve to get ahead.

The concrete proof that America wants its brains scrambled can be seen in the national complacency about science and technology. The Washington Post recently reported that times have never been tougher in terms of job openings, career prospects and job security for aspiring scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

Our educational debate centers on prayer in the schools while our children continue to lag behind the rest of the world in every available measure of elementary and secondary school performance.

Why this national celebration of stupidity? To some extent, President Clinton is to blame. He spends his vacations at policy retreats and surrounds himself with wonks, and because he is rather unpopular, he is giving brains a bad name.

His opponents seem convinced the road to their political ascendancy is to advocate idiocy.

But they are wrong. America’s position as a superpower, the growth of the economy and your children’s chances of improving their future depend on brains, not brawn. Scapegoating the smart might make for cheap ideological and entertainment points, but nothing could be dumber.


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