Call me stupid but when I step on a 757 I want to know that the pilot is smarter than me, at least about flying an airliner. If I need to have surgery I kind of want to know that the surgeon knows more about the procedure than do I. If I have to choose a political leader I want them to know more about government and governing than do I.
However, there is a vocal faction of society that would appear to agree with the first two hypotheticals and disagree with the third. This group believes that it is more important to have their representative to be “like me” than than to have a working knowledge of the government, history or the constitution.
Recently, Michele Bachmann was in New Hampshire and stated “You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.” Small point of fact – the famous shot as well as Lexington and Concord are in Massachusetts. These was not a extemporaneous conversation, these were prepared remarks. Bachmann’s response to the criticism that ensued was to cry foul and attack the media for reporting the error.
This is not the first time Bachmann’s fundamental lack of knowledge has surfaced. During the end of year debate on extending the Bush tax cuts Bachmann appeared on Good Morning America and claimed that tax increases would kick in at “$250,000 in gross sales”. Of course the fundamental point is that gross sales are distinctly different from taxable income. In this case Bachmann was showing her ignorance of basic tax principles. How can any representative contribute to a credible legislative effort if they don’t understand the simplest of concepts? To be fair I expect that there are a number of Americans who also don’t understand the difference between gross sales and income as it relates to taxation but the difference is that they aren’t writing the tax code but they are content with Bachmann because she is just like them.
A recent Gallup poll confirmed that “more like me” is valued over knowledge, at least for Republicans opinion of potential 2012 presidential candidates. In the poll, Bachmann was second only to Mike Huckabee in having the most intense following. And there’s the rub – intensity translates to motivation to vote regardless of whether the intensity is based on a candidate’s knowledge and competency or on emotional factors, e.g. “more like me”.
One of the strongest forms of loyalty is emotional loyalty. It is unlikely that Bachmann’s following will be dissuaded by facts but it is possible that she will go the way of Sarah Palin and begin to be recognized not as a credible legislator but as a public figure that is manipulating the system to broker degree of power and influence. Maybe it is a manifestation of this power that House Speaker John Boehner appointed Bachmann to the prestigious House Intelligence Committee. Can anyone not see the irony in that appointment?
As long as the Bachmanns and Palins continue to be successful at raising money they will be a factor in shaping America’s future and that I find disturbing.
Bachmann on Good Morning America
March 15, 2011 Gallup Poll