THE BLOG
08/22/2012 11:40 am ET | Updated Oct 22, 2012

Ignorance is... Electable?

I really did not want to write this. After taking a couple months off from blogging to work on other projects, like getting my son off to college, I had intended to return to the rough-and-tumble blogosphere with things I know about. My next blog, swear to whichever God you believe in, will be about movies and it will be good and controversial and all that. I like writing about movies. I know something about them and the biggest risk I encounter when I write about them is getting a verbal thrashing from anglophiles who strenuously object to my contention that The King's Speech might be a tad overrated.

Then Todd Akin happened.

It's old news by now. Missouri congressman and Republican Senate nominee stating in a radio interview that "legitimate rape" (the Congressman's term) could not result in pregnancy. Akin quickly apologized, claiming he hates rape as much as the next guy. In the past few hours, he has announced he will not withdraw from the Senate race.

My question is this: Why is he still in the United States Congress?

I don't doubt that Rep. Akin knows a great deal about Management Engineering. He has a degree in it, and a wealth of work experience. I would not question him on this subject, especially since I do not know what "management engineering" is. But how can a man who has displayed such willful ignorance about basic biology be entrusted to create laws which affect us all? I have heard people talk of intelligence tests for voters. (I don't support that, by the way.) Before they vote on the next version of No Child Left Behind, maybe candidates for office should be required to pass some basic tests.

It's important to recognize that Akin's rapid backpedaling did not correct the gist of his statement. He merely directed his righteous anger at rapists. He seems to think his basic mistake was that the term "legitimate rape" somehow suggested he believes rape is sometimes OK. I can let him off with his blame-the-rapist, poor-choice-of-words apology. But what he needed to do was say, "Gee, I was ignorant. I thought something was true and it isn't. Given the high office I hold, and even higher one I seek, I will make it a point to educate myself before I offer further opinions on critical matters."

I guess I will never be a political speechwriter.

The bigger story has little to do with Management Engineer Akin. (That sounds better than Representative Akin, doesn't it?) The bigger story is that we the people seem to be conflicted about what we want in an elected official. When John Kerry lost the 2004 presidential election to George Bush, one of the standard explanations was that he seemed too smart (elitist) and that Bush was the guy the common man would rather have a beer with and talk baseball. I have friends who I have beers with and talk baseball. I don't want any of them to be president. I would really like to have a president who is way smarter than me. I mean "way smarter than I."

I realize that intelligence isn't the only factor that makes a good leader, and that some of the very smartest people out there would make dreadful Senators or Congressmen. But couldn't we at least strive for men and women who seem interested in learning the facts before they pass judgment? The tragedy for democracy is that too many of us, the elected and the electorate alike, choose our beliefs first, then select the facts which support those beliefs. And if the facts simply do not support them, we ignore, or twist, or seek to erase said facts from the public debate. Be it the budget deficit or global warming, or reproductive biology, too many of us seem proud of our ability to reject fact when it conflicts with other precious beliefs.

Next week, movies! (but no King's Speech. I'm not stepping in that hornet's nest.)