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IT’S THE STUPIDIFICATION, STUPID! When S. E. Cupp sat down with the Lamb, The Dumb was all around: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, APRIL 29, 2010

What have they done with the real Paul Krugman: Heroically, we’ve been warning you about this. What have they done with Paul Krugman?

Our concern about Krugman’s kidnaping stems from this post at his old web site. Whoever is now writing Krugman’s posts offered “a quick note: my take on the politics of immigration is that it divides both parties, but in different ways.”

Please. “Krugman” proceeded to describe the way the two parties view immigration. When he described the way (we) Democrats see the issue, he described a world in which all motives were pure. Democrats are the good tribe, a state which “Krugman” shares:

KRUGMAN (4/26/10): Democrats are torn individually (a state I share). On one side, they favor helping those in need, which inclines them to look sympathetically on immigrants; plus they’re relatively open to a multicultural, multiracial society. I know that when I look at today’s Mexicans and Central Americans, they seem to me fundamentally the same as my grandparents seeking a better life in America.

On the other side, however, open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.

So Democrats have mixed feelings about immigration; in fact, it’s an agonizing issue.

Democrats have mixed feelings. But both their feelings about immigration are driven by noble motives.

How about the other tribe? Of course! They have several different feelings too. But their motives are both ig-noble:

KRUGMAN: Republicans, on the other hand, either love immigration or hate it. The business-friendly wing of the party likes inexpensive workers (and would really enjoy a huge guest-worker program that would both provide such workers and ensure that they can neither vote nor, in practice, unionize). But the cultural/nativist/tribal conservatives hate having these alien-looking, alien-sounding people on American soil.

So immigration is an issue that divides Republicans one from another, not within each individual’s heart.

See there? Republicans have mixed impulses too. But in this tribe, the two different feelings “Krugman” describes stem from base motives.

When we talk about Democrats and Republicans, we’re talking about tens of millions of people. Only a virally tribal person could compose such a ludicrous post.

We’re reminded of the famous old Superman episode. Some criminals kidnap the real Chuckles the Clown, then send a look-alike “Chuckles” to steal the children’s money.

Same idea here! What have they done with the real Paul Krugman? All the young analysts have asked.

Special report: Brooks & Dumb!

PART 3—IT’S THE STUPIDIFICATION, STUPID (permalink): Even as David Brooks plays Pangloss, The Dumb can be seen all around us.

Just yesterday, in Brooks’ own New York Times, two major writers were able to see the powerful role of The Dumb in our lives. Thomas Friedman was one such seer. Truer words have never been typed than these, near the end of his column:

FRIEDMAN (4/28/10): Much of our politics today is designed to make people stupid, confused and afraid of change.

It’s the stupidification, stupid! (In fact, “much of our politics” has been designed to make people stupid for at least the past twenty-five years.) But then, Patricia Cohen was also aware of this problem. In this piece from yesterday’s Times, Cohen discussed a string of conservative writers who are complaining about the “epistemic closure”—the rank stupidity—which now defines the conservative world.

Everyone seems to be able to spot the problem—everyone but Brooks! And here’s how bad the stupidification has gotten: In Sunday’s Washington Post, the paper’s book editors felt they had to review S. E. Cupp’s new book on religion! You may not know who S. E. Cupp is; by the rules of a dying rational world, there are very good reasons for that. But Joshua Rosenau must have misbehaved badly in a previous life. He was forced, by the Post’s book editors, to review Cupp’s deeply stupidified tome. Here’s how the sinner started:

ROSENAU (4/25/10): S.E. Cupp's handling of science and religion misrepresents the nature of evolution, obscures the science of biology and dismisses the deeply held religious views of most Christians outside of the fundamentalist subculture.

Cupp presents creationism as "a counterargument" to evolution, yet never provides a clear account of what evolution is or what she thinks creationism means.

We’ll guess that Rosenau is being too kind. That’s how stupidification works.

Who the heck is S. E. Cupp? She’s a young, extremely fresh-faced star pundit on Fox, so positioned because a pair of glasses have let her attain the catchable sexy librarian look. Can we talk? Among its various approaches, Fox News spills over with hot young women who are dragged out each night to offer analysis. Some of these women are perfectly bright; in some cases, this ain’t required. Beyond that, Cupp comes from a particular stall in the growing Fox stable of pundits—she plays a slightly off-center conservative, letting Fox present the world with the illusion of diversity. (A string of well-known “Fox Democrats” helps Fox complete this deception.) Most specifically, Cupp can be cast as an off-center conservative because she says that she’s an atheist. This makes her a vastly more shaggable version of “Fox feminist” Tammy Bruce.

Given her looks, her look and her off-center pose, the fact that Cupp is cosmically banal hasn’t retarded her rise at Fox. And that, of course, is where the culture of stupidification comes in! Because Cupp once found a pair of hot glasses—she wouldn’t have made it with her pre-glasses look—things have actually reached the point where the Washington Post feels it must review her utterly banal new book. Even as Rosenau rolls his eyes at her work, Cupp gains a credential. (Reviewed in the Post!) Conservatives get to feel that Rosenau is only saying those things because he’s a flaming liberal!

The stupidification is quite far along when someone like Cupp gets reviewed in the Post. For an idea of how absurd this whole affair is, consider the hour Cupp did last fall with C-Span’s slack-jawed Brian Lamb.

(To read the transcript or view the tape, just click here. Also, to scope Cupp’s look.)

Through the grapevine, our agents have heard that Brian scheduled Cupp for his excellent Q&A program because he wanted to do something different. If so, different is certainly what he got as Cupp mala-propped her way through a thoroughly memorable hour.

What lies at the heart of Cupp’s “conservatism?” Early on, Brian made a ginormous mistake—he asked:

LAMB (10/18/09): What conservative principle do you endorse first?

CUPP: I mean the three tenets that I have always found inspiring are fiscal responsibility, limited government and reducing taxes. I think—I know they’re all essentially economically based but taxes affect my day-to-day life a lot more than, you know, reproductive rights do. So I’ve never really gravitated to those, those values issues even though I think they’re incredibly important. I’ve just always been drawn to the starve-the-beast kind of, limit-the-government-reach kind of ethic.

I think people, because I’m young, want to be reassured that I came upon conservatism via Hayek or Buckley and I certainly have read all of that but it’s really much more guttural for me. It’s much more visceral. It’s— it wasn’t an academic high-brow decision to become a conservative a la Barry Goldwater or someone else like that, even though I admire them.

According to Cupp, she has always been drawn to “the limit-the-government-reach kind of ethic.” Sure, she’s read the great thinkers. But she didn’t decide to become “a conservative a la Barry Goldwater”—for her, it’s “much more guttural!” In fairness, we all commit malaprops now and then, but how did Cupp come up with “guttural?” Simple! Flipping through the index cards which comprise the mental world of a Hannity pundit, she crossed two index cards in her head:

One official index card says a conservative must always consult “her gut.” The other contains the word “visceral.”

At any rate, Brian began quizzing Cupp about her religious thinking—the thinking which drives her Post-reviewed book. Cupp of course said that she’s an atheist, though not a militant atheist. (“I really believe that when I die I go in the ground like every other animal and that’s that.”) As the pair continued, the depth of Cupp’s thinking was soon crystal clear:

LAMB: Explain what an atheist is in your opinion.

CUPP: Well for me I really don’t believe in a higher power of any kind. You know, no deity whatsoever. I really believe that when I die I go in the ground like every other animal and that’s that.

LAMB: Where did we come from?

CUPP: I think I’m an evolutionary believer. I believe that science has answered that question adequately enough for me. If evolution gets sort of re-written or tweaked over the next 100 years then great I’ll tweak my own ideas as well. But I just could never fill that whole, the gaps in our knowledge with some unseen, supernatural being. It just doesn’t made sense to me.

Cupp thinks she is “an evolutionary thinker,” although she’s willing to tweak her views if evolution itself gets tweaked. Soon, Cupp and Lamb found themselves embroiled in a long, incoherent religious discussion which sounded like something out of You Know Me Al. What do conservatives think of Cupp’s atheism? “I mean, conservatism is very intellectually diverse,” Cupp replied, “so libertarians, for example, really enjoy that I am an atheist.” To his credit, Brian just kept coming, though by now he surely wished that this Cupp had passed from his lips:

LAMB: Go back to George Bush though. He read the Bible every day.

CUPP: Right.

LAMB: And often said that this higher power was what was guiding him in making decisions.

CUPP: Right.

LAMB: If you don’t believe at all, why would you then follow somebody that has that as their way of life?

CUPP: As an atheist, I could never imagine electing, voting for, an atheist president for exactly those reasons. I mean religion keeps a person who is endowed with so much power honest. This is a person who’s answering to a higher power every night. And not to the state, he doesn’t think the state has all the power, and he doesn’t think he himself has all the power. That’s important to me.

I mean I represent two percent of the world. Why would I want someone who thinks that 98 percent of the world is crazy running the country?

LAMB: But you don’t think that that higher power exists.

CUPP: I don’t, but I don’t think people are crazy. I understand the allure of religion. I really do. I’m just not going to be dishonest and say that I believe in something that I don’t yet.

LAMB: But what if he’s hearing voices all the time and taking advice from a higher power that doesn’t exist in your opinion and makes decisions based on the higher power that doesn’t exist in your opinion?

CUPP: Well I mean, people’s faith is very personal and I don’t judge the way that people use their faith to inform their decisions. I really don’t. We can judge him on his policies whether he heard it from a voice in his head, he got it from the Bible, he had a conversation with Laura one night over dinner. I mean it doesn’t really matter to me.

How does stupidification work? Six months after this gong-show discussion occurred, the Washington Post somehow felt it had to review this person’s book on religion! In this way, a society gets dumber, and dumber, and dumber—until it may cease to exist.

Back to Brooks: We offer Cupp as a bit of comic relief, although this process is deeply pernicious. Forty years ago, a fly-weight like Cupp could never have been a TV pundit. She could never have published a book on religion, or had it reviewed, let alone in the Post. But over the course of the past several decades, talk radio, cable TV and the web have created the types of “ghettoized” precincts Brooks pooh-poohed in last Tuesday’s column. Within the gong-show world of Fox, Cupp’s inanity fits right in—makes her a superb Hannity pundit. On the program, she struggle and strains to fit all statements inside a few narrow coffins of thought. To our ear, her answers tend to be patently fake. But inside the ghettoized realm of Fox, it’s familiar music to ears.

Of course, the fact that Cupp’s glasses made her a sexy librarian was a large part of the deal.

Stupidification is all around us as these ghettoized precincts grow, on cable and on the web. (Fox is not alone.) But when a nation gets so dumb that its leading newspapers are reviewing this book, that nation is sliding toward the sea. This process has been underway for a long time—but people like Brooks just refuse to discuss it.

In the case of Brooks—and E. J. Dionne—they’ve refused to discuss it for years.

TOMORROW—PART 4: Death of a nation

Complete intellectual degradation: Here’s the headline of the Post’s book review: “Political Bookworm: Arguing with S.E. Cupp about evolution”

Volubility of the Lamb: By the end of the hour, Brian staged a public reading of some of Cupp’s sexy-time writing. To tell you the truth, her work on religion may make slightly more sense.