This isn’t a large incident, and scarcely worth mentioning, except that it highlights three things. First, he had no idea what a navy corpsman was. Second, if you are like most people, you’ve never heard this gaffe. Third, this, and scores more blunders, like his estimate there were 59 United States (he boasted of visiting 57 and missing 2), fell into the memory pit or were dismissed as aberrations, momentary lapses caused by fatigue, or explained as tics of a man with the weight of the world, nay, the universe on his shoulders.
And this is true: they were aberrations; trivial ones, too. No man who rises to the rank of president can be as stupid as these flubs indicate. It just will not, cannot happen. Nobody stumbles or bumbles his way to this nation’s top post. It can be, and often is true that the president is ignorant about certain aspects of government, as Mr Obama was about the military and foreign policy.
But this is because of a mere lack of education and not a fundamental deficit of intelligence. As proof of this, Mr Obama used his three years to learn about the military, advancing so far as to educate Mr Romney at their third debate that our military had “ships that go under water.” We do, too. That he also told Mr Romney our fighting men no longer used bayonets was false, but nobody can be expected to bat 1.000.
The press, the Fourth Estate, with furnished rooms just out back the Democrat White House, called Ronald Reagan an amiable dunce and George Bush Junior an idiot (or worse) on the basis of gaffes like Mr Obama’s. Yet by repeating these claims ad nauseam as a ploy to persuade voters, many in the press came to believe their own propaganda. That’s the force of advertising for you. It can convince weak minds of propositions they know couldn’t possibly be true.
Anyway, Messrs Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II must needs have been labeled mentally deficient, while Messrs Clinton and Obama never were. We could put this down to standard manipulation by journalists who feel it is their duty, not to report, but to tout. There is truth in this, also evinced in that Mr Obama never had to pay a price for any of his missteps, including Benghazi, or his increasing the deficit more than any previous president, or his massive tax increase set to instantiate immediately after the election, etc., as they say, etc.
But did you notice? This year the press has not tried their trusted gambit with Mr Romney. Nobody out there is calling him a fool, nary a soul has attempted to argue that he is stupid. This should amaze you! It does me. It is a cliché to say so, but this signals a fundamental shift in the battle between right and left.
By not reflexively calling him stupid, the press has conceded Mr Romney’s intelligence. There are even indications that the media are anxious to assert Romney’s brilliance. Not in a Mensa, London Times crossword puzzle “finished by the cracking of the egg” way, but as an evil genius. Mr Romney is the Moriarty of politics. His nefarious plan is hinted to consist of unimaginably complex stratagems to dupe the American public with tax cuts and deregulation so that Mr Romney and his black-hearted associates can, as the phrase has it, clean up.
Now, to many “deregulation” is a synonym of “increasing freedom”, but to others it is a euphemism for “not caring.” And there is no worse sin in American politics today than “not caring.” We have reached the culmination of the second great phase shift, which began under President “I feel your pain” Clinton. Which is to say, the feminization of politics is complete.
The war is no longer between those too stupid to know what is best and those whose shining minds have glimpsed the promised land. It is now between those who without emotion assess the state of the land and those who can bring out the onion on command.
The Slate’s assistant editor Laura Anderson said about why she will not vote for Mr Romney, “I’m appalled by his apparent inability to empathize with people who are less advantaged than he is.”
You will argue in vain with Ms Anderson that empathy with the downtrodden is not equivalent to an ability to relieve their burden, and that displays of the former are often inversely correlated with the latter. What counts for her, and for many, is what is said, not what is done.