After I graduated college, I joined the military. To be honest, I was cocky as hell. I knew I was smart, I had a college degree, and I was going to set the military world on fire with just how good I was. Yes, I was pretty arrogant, even after basic training. Then I reported to my permanent unit, and was given a quick lesson in humility. I was at best “average” for my unit, almost all of us had not only college degrees, but advanced college degrees. The people we were working for? The world experts in their fields. I quickly learned to keep my head down, and work my ass off to keep up. The lesson was that I wasn’t necessarily (or even often) the smartest person in the room, and that there was always someone who was smarter and better at something than I was. It doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where I’m an arrogant asshole, but it’s not a regular part of my personality. Over the years, I’ve met a number of people who either never seemed to have gotten the lesson I did, or if they did, it didn’t take. More recently, I’ve been watching a number of Republicans who fit that description.
If you look at a number of the most conservative Republicans, the ones who are reliably counted on to start saying the Tea Party line, you see that they’re not “unintelligent,” although I feel they fit into the just plain stupid caucus. Ted Yoho is a veterinarian, Tom Coburn, Paul Braun, and Rand Paul are doctors, and Ted Cruz was a top debater who went to Harvard Law. One of the more interesting articles was by Josh Marshall about Ted Cruz. It turns out he and Ted went to college together, and Josh’s wife went to Harvard with Ted as well as knowing him at Princeton. The memories?
So I started getting in touch with a lot of old friends and asking whether they remembered Ted. It was an experience really unlike I’ve ever had. Everybody I talked to – men and women, cool kids and nerds, conservative and liberal – started the conversation pretty much the same.
“Ted? Oh yeah, immense a*#hole.” Sometimes “total raging a#%hole.” Sometimes other variations on the theme. But you get the idea. Very common reaction.
But that wasn’t all. Before retelling this or that anecdote, there was one other thing that everybody said, “A really, really smart dude.”
In other words, he’s smart, but he’s convinced that he’s simply smarter than everyone else. The others I mention are in fields where they also tend to become convinced that their expertise – their “smarts” – means that their opinion on anything, even if it has nothing to do with their field, is more valid than anyone else’s. I’ve worked in the medical field, and it’s not an uncommon feature with doctors. They apparently never agreed with the reason that there’s a logical fallacy called the “appeal to authority.” That is, saying “expert X” says so isn’t a valid argument if expert X isn’t an expert in the subject the statement is being made in. Add in a hefty dose of religion, a belief that you made it on your own, and a number of people telling you how right you are, and you have the ingredients for being invincibly convinced that you are right, “better than,” any evidence to the contrary.
They’re lacking a sense of humility. The acknowledgement that someone else may be as smart, smarter, just plain better than they are, or that they’re wrong. It’s not in their makeup. Which is why this smackdown by Harry Reid will just bounce off:
“Ted Cruz is smart. He has always been able to talk down to people. He is now in the Senate. People are as smart as he is. He can’t talk down to anyone anymore. But he has still not accepted that in his own head. He still thinks he’s smarter than everybody else. He might be able to work a calculus problem better than I can. But he can’t legislate better than I can.”
That would be a dose of humility if it took, and it’s a dose that quite few on the Republican side need. Unfortunately, they’re going to not take it. There’s an old scenario used by almost all action movies: The antagonist is “a genius” who comes up with a plan which simply cannot fail, except for a few overlooked weak points and the protagonist’s being better than they’re assumed to be. Of course, the genius isn’t to blame for the failure. That’s what they’re like. If they don’t learn that, then they’d better get used to uttering a really hackneyed phrase from some of those movies: “Curses! Foiled again!”