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The New Republicans and The Intellectual Divide

04/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Imagine a man born in Boston, Massachusetts, who after beginning his career as a writer in a local paper at age fifteen, develops into a legendary intellectual, author, and satirist, as well as a prominent scientist and politician. Being a competent violinist and harp player, he composes several original pieces of classical music for string quartets. At age 47, he is awarded honorary degrees from both Harvard and Yale -- and shortly afterwards, a doctorate from Oxford.

As a skeptic and a scientist, he is suspicious of organized religion, and pens a dissertation detailing his criticism of Christian principles; he also openly questions the divinity of Jesus Christ. He lives with his partner in a common-law marriage, fathers a child out of wedlock, and to top it all off, he is very, very good friends with the French.

Is this someone that Tea Partiers would consider to be in touch with the American people in 2010?

What about in the 1700s? The abridged biography is that of Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father and one of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence.

He is not an aberration. Thomas Jefferson, who served eight years as president, was a noted intellectual, author, architect, archaeologist, and avid connoisseur of wine, who once characterized the New Testament as "much untruth, charlatanism and imposture". Fellow Founding Fathers George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Paine (author of The Age of Reason) were his like-minded peers.

This could be valuable food for thought for modern Tea Party conservatives who are engaged in a struggle to restore the vision of the Founding Fathers and "take their country back".

While the 2008 election season highlighted almost every competitive demographic split that exists in American society -- male vs. female, black vs. white, young vs. old, conservative vs. liberal, Mormon vs. Huckabee, sexism vs. racism, and of course, beer-drinking vs. arugula-eating -- the most glaring was the schism in intellect, which continues to widen today as the Tea Party movement becomes the New Face of the Republican party.

What was until recently a difference in ideology has devolved, in a little over a decade, into a difference in intellect. Somewhere along the way, Ronald Reagan gave up his throne to Sarah Palin; George Will and Charles Krauthammer took a back seat to Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity; and the likes of Joe the Plumber replaced the likes of Colin Powell as the heroes of the New Republicans.

It's not that the existing Republicans actually got dumber; but that the torch was somehow passed without the brains.

By painting educated, well-earning, science-embracing, articulate, introspective, intellectual citizens as un-American, the Republican party has built an entire base made up of those who not only don't possess these attributes, but enthusiastically abhor those who do. Not only are these factions now split along lines of educational achievement, socioeconomic status, and cultural and religious values, but most significantly, along an "intellectual divide".

The Republicans have been able to coalesce around them a base of voters that are on the more vulnerable and malleable side of this divide. Karl Rove scored twice in the election and re-election of George W. Bush by effectively -- and impressively -- constructing political strategy on the working assumption that the majority of people are ignorant and/or intellectually deficient, and therefore manipulable. So, if you can be loud enough and simultaneously inject enough fear into your target population (WMD in Iraq, Saddam causing 9/11, gays getting married, or Obama = socialism = Hitler), they will believe whatever you tell them. This is what enabled wealthy politicians and oil corporations to send economically disadvantaged teenagers to war and lay off their blue collar working class parents -- as their jobs were sent overseas for cheap labor and massive profits -- and yet still get them to vote them back into office.

From Sarah Palin's breathtakingly uninformed Washington Post op-ed calling for a boycott of the Copenhagen climate change conference, to her mocking Obama's use of teleprompters at the National Tea Party convention while having "tax cuts" written on her hand, you would think she is currently the most compelling evidence to this new breed of conservatives that we all did, indeed, evolve from apes. Instead, she is being tapped by John McCain for his re-election campaign and is now working as a commentator for Fox News.

It's one thing to be ignorant. It's another to take pride in it. And it's quite another to venture beyond that into full-blown stupidity. It's not often that you get to use the word "stupidity" in a non-ad hominem context, but now -- with the majority of Republicans believing Obama is a socialist without having any idea what socialism is, over a third believing he is foreign-born, and featured Tea Party speakers calling for the hanging of a US senator -- it's becoming harder and harder to euphemize some of things we're witnessing as anything but.

In a recent study of over 7000 children aged 10, followed through to age 30, Dr. Ian Dreary from the University of Edinburgh's Department of Psychology demonstrated a strong association between higher I.Q. at age 10 and more liberal and anti-traditional attitudes at age 30. A large number of studies from the 1930s to the present have also shown, using a variety of intelligence-measuring techniques (including I.Q. assessment), that those with higher intelligence tend to be more skeptical of religion, like the Founding Fathers. So it's no surprise that the Bible has more influence over recent Republican policy stances on issues like global warming and stem cell research than evidence-based science -- and it is America's leadership in science that largely forms the foundation for its status in the world today.

For the New Republicans, being critical of ignorance and stupidity is considered elitist and condescending, while the widespread anti-intellectual, anti-progressive sentiment that continues to brew increasingly at these Tea Party rallies is widely revered, celebrated, and dangerously thought of as patriotic and pro-American.

Although it is still easy to criticize Democrats on a host of issues, you no longer need to be a Democrat to not want to be a Republican.