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Lightbulb Moment

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Back in 1993, The Washington Post made headlines by describing religious conservatives as “largely poor, uneducated and easily led.” It was a silly thing to write, but resonated because it seemed to prove what many already believed: Liberals and members of the mainstream media (I repeat myself) don’t think conservatives are very intelligent.

Very little has changed.

“Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice,” announced a recent study by Its story was linked to by the mainstream Yahoo! News. “Low-intelligence adults tend to gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies, the study found. Those ideologies, in turn, stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice.”

Prejudice is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Jesse Jackson sees it everywhere, while many others are amazed at how little we see these days. So let’s set that aside and focus on the more concrete claim here: That conservatives are dumb, since our beliefs “stress hierarchy and resistance to change.”

Of course, it isn’t conservatives that value obeying hierarchy. “Intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command must still remain the rock upon which states are built,” wrote liberal philosopher William James about a century ago. James was the first to use the phrase “moral equivalent of war,” which spawned a series of government wars: War on drugs, poverty, cancer and so forth. Each war expanded the government’s power over various spheres of American lives.

As Jonah Goldberg wrote recently, James’ student, “liberal philosopher John Dewey, hoped for a social order that would force Americans to lay aside ‘our good-natured individualism and march in step.’”

And here’s the point: Conservative ideas tend to stress individualism. We think people ought to be free to succeed (or fail) on their own merits. Liberal ideas tend to stress a lack of confidence in people.

Consider our approach to public policy. On Social Security, conservatives aim to keep our promises to previous generations, but recognize that the only way to do so is to change the system so we start giving future retirees ownership of some of their retirement funds. Personal accounts would do this, and would preserve the current system for those at or above retirement age today. It’s a big idea, and it would mean some people might fail: they’d make poor decisions, and might lose money. It happens.

Contrast that with the liberal approach: “Social Security is a program that works and it’s going to be, it’s fully funded for the next 40 years, stop picking on Social Security,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last year. That’s the liberal idea. Facing a program that’s vastly underfunded, they say: Do nothing. Make no changes. That’s smart.

Then there’s health care. Again, the conservative approach involves major changes: disconnecting health insurance from employment.

It makes little sense to get your health insurance through your work -- you don’t get homeowner insurance or car insurance through your employer. That’s why those types of insurance are sold in open markets, and have to compete to offer popular features at affordable prices. If Americans could buy their own health insurance on an open market, we could get better care, tailored to our individual needs, at a more-affordable price.

Instead, liberals press for greater government control, through mandates and regulations. Under Obamacare, to name a recent example, even religious employers such as Catholic universities will be forced to provide contraception services as part of their employee health care plans. This micromanagement of personal choices highlights that liberals don’t have much confidence in the ability of Americans to make their own choices.

Yahoo! isn’t alone in making the claim that conservatives are dumb. “Why are Obama’s critics so dumb?” Newsweek’s Jan. 13 cover story asked.

“We who are unhappy that unemployment has increased on Obama’s watch, that over-regulation has stymied economic growth, that our children now owe a $15 trillion debt that we can’t pay–hey, we’re just dumb!” John Hinderaker objects at Powerline. “We obviously aren’t smart enough to understand how devastating our economy, unemploying millions of Americans and burdening our children with trillions of dollars in debt is really a great idea.”

The real question isn’t “why conservatives are so dumb.” We’re not. A better question would be: “Why can’t members of the media stop calling us names and start taking conservatives seriously.” Alas, maybe they’re just too dumb to do so.

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