August 10, 2004
Are Blue States Smarter than Red States?
by Maureen Farrell
There are those, one supposes, who still think that Paul, and not John, was the better Beatle. For some unknown reason, many honestly believed that Bob Hope was funny. And rumor has it that some people actually enjoy anchovies on their pizza. While these quirks might be best summed up with the axiom, "There’s no accounting for taste," preferences are often determined by intelligence, too. The majority of Americans chose wisely during the 2000 election, for example. Five out of nine Supreme Court Justices, on the other hand, made a really stupid mistake.
Given all that has transpired in the past three and a half years, unless you’re among the nation’s ridiculously rich (and consider Ebenezer Scrooge to be a personal hero), the smart choice in this election will be to give G.W. Bush the permanent vacation he richly deserves. Record deficits, ill-advised tax breaks, an unnecessary war, and a healthy dash of deceit are but a few ingredients in this no-brainer pie. Because clearly, if people rely on intellect instead of Pavlovian conditioning, they simply have to conclude, as did Bruce Springsteen, that it’s time for a change.
But middle-aged icons are not the country’s only sages. According to a recent Harvard study, America’s brightest rising stars are also gunning to unseat George W. Bush -- a sentiment underscored by recent Harvard graduate Natalie Portman’s decision to wear a "Vote for John Kerry" T-shirt on national TV. While this gesture was not enthusiastically embraced by Good Morning America or The Early Show (ABC used strategically placed flowers to block the shirt, while CBS shot Portman from the shoulders up), Charlie Rose allowed "Vote for Kerry" to peek out, unobstructed, across TV Land. Comedy Central also made no attempt to mask Portman’s "Kerry Me" T-shirt when she appeared on the Daily Show, providing a metaphor for Jon Stewart’s commitment to open commentary versus the networks’ habit of manipulating realties and covering things up.
Though ABC's Diane Sawyer cited "equal time" as the reason for the flowery censorship, Portman wasn't buying it. "Come on, you've got [Bill O'Reilly's] The O'Reilly Factor. That's on television; that evens it out!'' she said. Of course, in the wake of Disney's decision to dump Fahrenheit 911, it's now common knowledge that O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Matt Drudge and other right wingers broadcast regularly over Disney/ABC-owned radio stations. And to make matters less equal, John Stossel also recently attacked John Edwards on ABC's 20/20.
One could [weakly] argue, however, that the logical explanation for GMA's and the Early Show's censorship lies in the fact that mainstream commercial television, which speaks to a wider audience, is bound by more restrictions than either public television or cable TV. But, whatever the reason, this non-commitment to excellence exacts a beefy price. The Daily Show, for example, though considered "fake news" recently beat out Nightline for "outstanding news and information programming" while, according to a recent study, PBS viewers were considered far better informed than those who relied on FOX or network news.
And so, while a "Vote for John Kerry" endorsement would make perfect sense to enlightened PBS viewers, it might incite dittoheads to react as our ancestors did when anyone suggested that the earth was not flat. After all, why would competing morning shows want to alienate members of their audience or risk an onslaught of hate mail from totalitarian knuckle-draggers? Best to cover it up, else suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous numbskulls. And considering the response Portman generated after expressing a pro-Kerry opinion on David Letterman’s Late Show, avoidance, though mealy-mouthed and cowardly, makes sense.
Which brings us to the issue at hand. Why do people who endorse Bush appear to be on Stepfordian autopilot? Why are they so quick to shout down anyone who sways from their automaton script? Are they deluded? Brainwashed? A few episodes shy of a mini-series? Propagandists like Bill Kristol aside, smart people, by and large, seem to understand that George W. Bush is a disaster. Not too long ago, for example, 8 in 10 professional historians deemed this president "an overall failure," -- a conclusion readily reached by anyone who hasn’t: a) been brainwashed by Charles Krauthammer b) sold his soul to the GOP or c) suffered irreversible brain damage.
And so, when one looks at the projected electoral vote map for the 2004 election, and sees a big glop of red, the only logical question, aside from the divisive and negative and not very nice "Are these people morons?" is the less grating query, "Are blue states smarter?"
A few years ago, the Internet was abuzz with such speculation, as a chart listing the I.Q.s of each state, alongside whether they voted for Al Gore or George Bush, made the e-mail rounds. That information, which concluded that smarter states voted for Gore, was soon discredited. Earlier this year, the St. Petersburg Times repeated this claim as did the London-based Economist, but New Zealand’s Business Review called them both on their gullibility. "Internet hoax tricks mainstream major: Not so smart after all," the article declared, in a tone that seemed to involve pointing and laughing.
But hoax or no hoax, there is something bothersome about the sea of red that cannot be explained away as a matter of either opinion or taste. Having lived in both southern red and northeastern blue states (and having noticed the superiority of the blue state’s public schools) the explanation goes beyond questions of culture and involves something deeper. And so, starting with the hypothesis that Bush backers must, given all the evidence, be a bit slow on the uptake, researchers at BuzzFlash (namely me) consulted the publishers of Education State Rankings, 2003-2004 (via Google) and compared these findings against projected electoral votes in the 2004 election.
Asking, "Which State is Smartest?" Morgan Quinto compiled information based on 21 factors and concluded that Massachusetts is the most cerebral state in the union. But even more intriguing, according to projected electoral votes for 2004, Kerry is ahead in 9 in 10 of America’s smartest states, while Bush leads in but one, Montana, which, by many accounts, is Ted Kaczynski crazy.
As of this writing, this is how the candidates fare in the country's top ten "smart states":
There are holes in this theory, of course. Hawaii and California strongly back Kerry, for instance, even though their education standards leave much to be desired. On the other hand, it could be that smart people simply move to Hawaii and California after being educated elsewhere.
And, as you might imagine, research on whether or not morons support G.W. Bush remains spotty, at best. After all, though slower citizens might not realize that supporting Bush should be an embarrassment, who would admit, to Zogby or anyone, that they're absolute idiots? And though it’s doubtful that the "the Academy for Recognizing Stupidity Everywhere" relies on sound science, some of their more recent observations and conclusions are nevertheless noteworthy.
Not to be outdone by John Kerry (who, as has already been noted, is avidly supported by a Harvard-educated celebrity), "Stupidest Man of the Year" George Bush is backed by fellow World Stupidity Award nominees Jessica Simpson (who not only endorses Bush but reportedly told Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton "You've done a nice job decorating the White House") and Britney "I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes" Spears.
Meanwhile, FOX News was deemed "Media Outlet Which Has Made the Greatest Contribution to Furthering Ignorance Worldwide" while The O'Reilly Factor won "the Stupidest TV Show" Award.
not sold? If you’re looking for even more unscientific proof that the
smart vote's on Kerry, America Online's Instant Message (AIM) "Smarter
Child" robot, a computer program designed to relay facts and information,
also recently deemed John Kerry the wiser choice. "I'm a Kerry supporter
myself," the computer
program told a 13-year-old girl, adding, "George
W. Bush is way uncool" and "I have my reasons, believe me.
I really, really don't like George W. Bush."
Those who embrace Bush may get offended, of course. People in denial usually do. But it’s not as if this stupidity is permanent. After all, Ebenezer Scrooge smartened up in a matter of hours. And, as is almost always the case, redemption is but a few heartfelt lessons away.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell