Lisa Murkowski, who it now appears may be the second person since 1954 elected to the Senate by means of write-in votes, recently made news with a snarky swipe at Sarah Palin. Murkowski sagely observed that Palin suffered from a lack of “intellectual curiosity.” This assertion marks Murkowski in a way that may cause Alaskans to experience an acute case of buyer’s remorse, for it is a very specific type of person who thinks, let alone makes, this assertion.
Intellectual curiosity appears to be rather ephemeral. It defies easy definition. Certainly one can cobble together a definition from a dictionary, and those who imagine themselves to be possessed of metric tons of it (and they’d surely prefer the metric system to the more red statish American system) are generally more than happy to identify those who do not possess it. Still, intellectual curiosity seems to be something that is understood and/or bestowed rather than earned. It seems to be a state of grace awarded by those who already exist in that exalted state rather than something one can attain through long-standing effort and merit.
In fact, there is substantial evidence that intellectual curiosity may be ironic, perhaps even paradoxical. The more one is lauded for possessing it, the less likely it is that they will manifest any meaningful evidence of its presence. Take Senator John Kerry, who, when running against George W. Bush for the presidency, was widely lauded by the press and the presumably intellectually curious as the obvious intellectual superior of Mr. Bush. “I can’t believe I’m losing to this idiot!” he reportedly exclaimed.
Yet it was, in due time, revealed that Mr. Bush earned better grades at Yale, the alma mater they shared, than Mr. Kerry. Suddenly, Mr. Kerry was no longer so publicly lauded. Perhaps one can be privately intellectually curious? But what’s the point of being a superior being if you can’t share your brilliance with the world and be, thereafter, suitably praised?
While president, George W. Bush, despite holding an undergraduate degree from Yale and a Harvard MBA, was labeled as lacking in intellectual curiosity by his self-imagined betters, yet the accomplishments of this intellectual pygmy are such that they have been, in large part, adopted and continued by his successor, the most intellectually curious human being who has yet lived — who nonetheless blames him for, well, for just about everything. Since leaving office, various books, including that by Karl Rove (the locus of all evil in the world), have revealed that Mr. Bush is a dedicated reader, and a reader of substantive books at that. In fact, as this is written, his book, Decision Points, is the New York Times and Amazon top seller and is receiving good reviews at the hands of honest critics. Not bad for one so lacking in intellectual curiosity.
Ronald Reagan was widely derided as an “amiable dunce,” a reckless cowboy, and B-movie actor. Surely he was intellectually incurious? Yet, judging by his accomplishments, he must have attained some level of intellectual acumen. Even some of those so quick to denigrate his intelligence have been forced to admit, following the posthumous publication of his diaries and letters, that Mr. Reagan was in fact well read, intelligent, thoughtful, and even intellectually curious.
It would seem that there is more to this intellectual curiosity business than is at first apparent. It appears to be a label applied, almost exclusively, by those of the liberal/progressive persuasion to conservatives. For instance, one might be tempted to apply the label to Vice President Biden, every utterance heard or recorded whenever his lips are moving being prima facie evidence of the accuracy of the charge. However, conservatives appear to refrain from such name calling. What could account for this puzzling situation?
Perhaps a review of the top ten essential qualifications of the intellectually curious is in order:
(1) Attendance and graduation from an Ivy League university (best if transcripts are mysteriously missing, sealed, or have been shot into space, and/or no one is able or willing to remember anything about your accomplishments).
(2) Teaching at an Ivy League university, particularly if your classes mostly end in “studies.”
(3) Having once taught at an Ivy League university or any university commonly known as a bastion of the left, particularly if there is little evidence you ever taught a class.
(4) Membership in the Democratic, Socialist, or Communist Parties (but I repeat myself), and slavish devotion to the associated philosophy and doctrine.
(5) Being a Democrat elected official (extra IQ points awarded to U.S. representatives and senators willing to bash America and George W. Bush).
(6) Being a member of the legacy media (extra IQ points above and beyond any politician are self-awarded).
(7) Being a pundit/commentator on any cable TV network other than Fox, particularly if you are required to have regular examinations for rabies.
(8) Being Barack Obama (IQ, self-regard off the charts; how does one rate a light worker?).
(9) No actual evidence of accomplishment. Ever.
(10) Being one of any combination of the above plus having married — at least once (twice is better) — a ridiculous wealthy leftist woman.
Let’s review the essential qualifications of the intellectually incurious:
(1) A conservative who has beaten his betters in any electoral contest (but particularly national), regardless of any other factor of background, education, accomplishment, etc.
(2) Sarah Palin.
But what are we to understand when the intellectually curious by self-acclamation prove themselves to be anything but? Just a few cases in point:
(1) David Brooks, what passes for a conservative at the New York Times, drooling over the crease in Barack Obama’s pants and concluding from that crease that Obama would be a “very good president.” One shudders to imagine what Mr. Brooks might have concluded should he have glimpsed Mr. Obama’s underwear.
(2) David Brooks expressing his everlasting man love for Mr. Obama, who was apparently able to construct several consecutive sentences with “Edmund Burke” in them.
(3) David Gregory of NBC news, upon observing Mr. Obama swat a fly, falling into a fit of man-loving rapture at the significance of the accomplishment such that he had to observe that swatting a fly wasn’t “easy,” and was a feat that would take him many hours; accompanied by Meredith Vieira and John Harwood of the Today Show who were similarly smitten; accompanied by ABC’s Good Morning America’s Chris Cuomo, who observed that such martial arts skill is “very rare”; accompanied by Chris Wragge of CBS who announced that he had just confirmed that “the president is a ninja.”
(4) Senator John Kerry, making one of the most tone-deaf, politically dense proclamations of all time: “I voted for the 86 billion before I voted against it.”
(5) Wall Street Journal reporter Sudeep Reddy criticizing Sarah Palin’s assertion that grocery prices have risen in the last year and the Obama administration’s QE2 policy “would push them even higher.” Palin (to the intellectually curious, the most intellectually incurious human being who has ever lived) pointed out that a November 4 article in the Wall Street Journal made precisely that point. Ooops.
(6) Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball dealing with Obama Onset Tingling Leg Syndrome (OOTLS).
(7) Any and every politician suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS).
So it would seem that the intellectually curious are afflicted with serious cases of Pants Worship (PW), Foot In Mouth Disease (FIMD), Faux-Masculinity Worship (FMW), BDS, OOTLS, Wall Street Journal I-Can’t-Read-My-Own-Newspaper-Syndrome (ICRMONS), and Lack of Actual Accomplishment Syndrome (LAAS).
The intellectually incurious, on the other hand, seem to get elected and seem to actually accomplish things. The most recent election results — and common sense — reveal that:
(1) Americans like that;
(2) Anyone calling someone else intellectually incurious, is, and;
(3) It would be a good idea to be curious about Lisa Murkowski’s political identity.