MENTAL STATES: The American people are pretty sharp!


According to pundits and pols:
"The American people are pretty sharp!"

It's a standardized, deeply treasured portrait of us—of our one impressive national group among all the "rational animals." Pols and pundits understand that they must state this view if they hope to be respected, even well liked, by the very sharp people in question.

For one example among several, let's return to the fall of 2009—to the time of an earlier potential trade war with China.

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero was then, and remains today, a well-regarded progressive. He appeared on CNN to discuss the "Cash for Clunkers" program, which was first proposed under President Bush but enacted by President Obama.

Bernero spoke with CNN anchor John Roberts.
In short order, he executed the "pretty sharp" hat trick:
ROBERTS (9/16/09): Mayor, a lot of people are concerned that we may also be looking into trade war with China. Mr. Mayor, between this time and the last time we talked to you, the whole "Cash for Clunkers" program took place.

A real boom for dealers. General Motors sales were up some 30 percent. I know that some people have come back to work there in Lansing as a result of that.

Are you seeing any further ripple effects? Is that something you can build on? Or is that just going to be a temporary bump in the economy?

BERNERO: John, I got to share with you—a woman from south Lansing just told me last night, she said she walked by the dealerships. She walked by a Hyundai dealership and she walked by a Chevy dealership and she saw a lot more clunkers sitting in the back of the Hyundai dealership.

And she is right on. Because middle American—the American citizens are smart. They want to know, why are we subsidizing the purchase of foreign vehicles? They said, why wasn't it just American vehicles that were subsidized with this?

Why would we promote people buying foreign vehicles? See, they get it. The American people are pretty sharp.
Former mayor Bernero is highly regarded. As far as we know, he should be. (In 2010, he was the Democratic nominee for governor of Michigan.)

That said, Bernero went for the hat trick that day. He said "the American people are pretty sharp"—and he also specifically said that "the American people are smart."

Completing the hat trick, he tied these claims to a single, anecdotal survey of the relative prevalence of clunkers—to a single, utterly useless survey he, or his source, imaginably could have made up.

There you see the perfect execution of the prevailing "pretty sharp" dogma. In a variant of this play, Nicolle Wallace tells us rubes, every day, that her copy-cat panel of professional pundits are "some of our favorite reporters and friends."

At the end of her hour, she sometimes says that she could talk to "these friends" all day. In signing off, she often throws to "my friend, Chuck Todd," thus completing the marketing ploy.

We Americans never seem to tire of being talked down to in such ways. The fact that we swallow such Grade A guff suggests the possibility that we aren't quite as smart, or even as sharp, as we constantly hear.

How might we describe the mental states of us, the American people? Our president seems to be a sociopath, two major analysts told us last Friday. If that helps describe his mental state, what can we say about ours?

Is it true that we, the American people, are actually "pretty sharp?" Every so often, surveys and polls suggest that this may be a tiny overstatement of sorts.

Uh-oh! However sharp we the people may be, surveys constantly show that a significant percentage of us don't know our American constitution from our apocryphal keisters.

In other arenas, disputes break out as to whether the earth is flat. Meanwhile, who's the sitting vice president? Many people can't answer the question, even when the answer is "Quayle."

(In 1989, only 74% were able to name Vice President Quayle, who was then the a leading figure in news and comedy programming. In 2007, even fewer were able to name Vice President Cheney, who was then in his seventh year.)

We the people aren't always quite as sharp as we're told. In fairness, it can't always be said that our professional pundit corps is all that much sharper.

Sometimes, our lack of maximum sharpness seems remarkably hard to ignore. As late as August 2016, NBC News was reporting these survey results concerning the place of Barack Obama's birth:
CLINTON AND ROUSH (8/10/16): Seventy-two percent of registered Republican voters still doubt President Obama’s citizenship, according to a recent NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll conducted in late June and early July of more than 1,700 registered voters. And this skepticism even exists among Republicans high in political knowledge.

To see whether voters believe that Obama was not born in the United States, we asked them about their agreement with this statement: “Barack Obama was born in the United States.”


While more than eight in 10 Democrats agreed with the claim, far more Republicans disagreed with the statement (41 percent) than agreed with it (27 percent). An additional 31 percent of Republicans expressed some doubts about whether Obama is a native U.S. citizen (i.e. indicating that they neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement). Only slightly more than one in four Republican voters agreed that the president was born in the United States.
In the final year of his presidency, only 27 percent of Republicans responded to that survey question by saying that Obama had been born in this country.

This remarkable survey result had been recurring for years at that point. But we never saw a major news org make any kind of attempt to interview Republican voters to explore their belief about this matter in more detail.

Obama wasn't born here! This has been one of the most remarkable stated beliefs in American political history. That said, it triggered a remarkable lack of curiosity among our press corps elite—among the people who are constantly telling us how amazingly sharp we are.

These amazing, persistent survey results raised the most obvious questions about the overall mental state of us the very sharp American people—indeed, about our species, Homo sapiens, an allegedly "rational" group.

That said, this particular apparent lack of sharpness mainly occurred among the very sharp Republican people. In fairness, there are also occasional lapses which occur within our own liberal tribe.

To wit:

On July 31, we sat in an undisclosed location in an undisclosed part of Maine. We were watching the second night of the second Democratic debate through a purloined cable hookup from across the state line in New Hampshire.

At one point,
CNN's Dana Bash offered the question shown below. After Candidate Yang gave his reply, we were surprised, but not surprised, by the answer from Candidate Harris:
BASH (7/31/19): Mr. Yang, women on average earn 80 cents, about 80 cents, for every dollar earned by men.

Senator Harris wants to fine companies that don't close their gender pay gaps. As an entrepreneur, do you think a stiff fine will change how companies pay their female employees?
Yang said the government should give everyone $1000 per month. After he'd finished this standard reply, Candidate Harris said this:
HARRIS: I think that's support of my proposal, which is this:

Since 1963, when we passed the Equal Pay Act, we have been talking about the fact women are not paid equally for equal work. Fast forward to the year of our lord 2019, and women are paid 80 cents on the dollar. Black women 61 cents, Native American woman 58 cents, Latinas 53 cents.

I'm done with the conversation.
So yes, I am proposing in order to deal with this, one, I'm going to require corporations to post on their website whether they are paying women equally for equal work. Two, they will be fined for every 1 percent differential between what they're paying men and women, they will be fined 1 percent of their previous year's profit. That will get everybody's attention.

BASH: Thank you, Senator.
Rather plainly, Candidate Harris seemed to say that women are paid 80 cents on the dollar, as compared to men, for doing equal work.

Everyone knows that this familiar claim is bogus. Not too long ago, Harris' campaign apparently said as much, saying that she had "misspoken" when she made a similar claim.

Everyone knows it isn't true, but Candidate Harris continues to say it, and journalists like Bash don't object. In fact, our liberal and mainstream tribes loves that familiar statement. We make it all the time.

The American people are pretty sharp! It isn't always entirely clear that this familiar claim is true, especially in such tribalized times as these. That said, it's always easier to spot the problems when the problems are found Over There—when the very sharp American people are saying that Obama was born on the moon.

Barack Obama was born in Kenya? The fact that so many people apparently came to believe this claim is one of the most remarkable facts about the mental states which help define our time.

That said, we liberals also adopt all sorts of bogus beliefs. Tomorrow, we'll briefly revisit that treasured wage gap, then move on from there.

Tomorrow: Candidate Trump stalked Candidate Clinton and other treasured beliefs


  1. "We Americans never seem to tire of being talked down to in such ways. The fact that we swallow such Grade A guff suggests the possibility that we aren't quite as smart, or even as sharp, as we constantly hear."

    Somerby appears to be totally lacking in social skills. We tell other people their hair looks good, when it doesn't. We tell them their babies are cute, that their meals are delicious, that their new clothes are attractive. We pretend that acquaintances and coworkers are "friends."

    We tell people these things as social glue, to enhance our interactions with them. Not to pull the wool over their eyes, not to feed them guff, not to manipulate them or get something from them. We do it to be nice, to create a social environment that we can all function well in.

    People learn this when they are toddlers. Somerby never seems to have gotten the message. He wants to call us out on it, as if it made us stupid or bad to do these social things. No one confuses the friendliness of a salesperson with the quality of the wares or the reasonableness of the price. We set it aside. At least normal people do. If Somerby doesn't, he may be autistic or he may have grown up in a barn.

    There is nothing uniquely wrong with Nicole Wallace if she calls her colleagues (or her viewers) friends. Somerby is being obtuse again, because he has an axe to grind. This is getting tiresome. No one should have to explain this stuff to him.

  2. "Rather plainly, Candidate Harris seemed to say that women are paid 80 cents on the dollar, as compared to men, for doing equal work.

    Everyone knows that this familiar claim is bogus. "

    No, everyone does not agree about this. Somerby thinks he made a case, but women's advocacy groups do not agree. They object to excluding the factors that cause women's pay to be lower, the ones that require that "equal work" be strictly defined to exclude the forms of workplace discrimination and manipulation that cause women to receive less money for their labor than men do.

    It can be use of different job titles, exclusion of women from job training programs and apprenticeships, restriction of women to part-time jobs (against their wishes), failure to promote women when they complete higher education or training, failure to promote them even when they are more qualified than male competitors, and so on. These are important reasons why that 80% figure is relevant to the equal pay issue. Women's advocates understand the full depth of the problems women face in the workplace. Somerby deliberately excludes these so that he can pretend that women are lying about their salaries, that this is all bogus (his word).

    Harris isn't fooled. Yang ducked the issue. Somerby lies like the piece of shit he has become.

    1. About what then did Harris's campaign claim she misspoke previously?

      Her spokesperson claims she would not use "for the same work" formulation any more. Why would they say that if Harris isn't fooled and not everyone agrees the 80% for the same work formulation is bogus? Bizarre.

      One point that could be drawn from this outside of the particulars of whether or not that formulation is true or not is that given the ambiguity, her confident proclamations that it is true and unambiguous give her potential Republican rivals an opening to portray her as dishonest, which is political mistake. They could make her look like a fool as Rachel Maddow did on the Meet the Press episode where she stupidly claimed the same thing, making all is liberals for whom she was acting as a spokesperson, look like fools also.

    2. Her “potential Republican rivals?” There is only one rival: Trump, and he has made 12,000 false, misleading statements...let’s call them lies...since becoming President.

    3. Gosh, who knew that a statistic could be overturned by one campaign person's claim. Does using a "controversial" statistic mean that it is necessarily bogus?

      Potential Republican rivals apparently includes Somerby.

      There is nothing wrong with claiming that women are so disadvantaged in the workplace that they earn 80% on the dollar. It is true. The reasons can be debated but there is lots of documentation about why that gap exists. Somerby has no interest in that because it might rehabilitate the 80% figure and he is too intent on calling women names for using it.

      Maddow is no fool. Harris no fool. The only fool here is Somerby, who thinks that arguing about a single number can make a broad history of discrimination against women just go away.

    4. Why then did Harris claim she misspoke?

    5. "Somerby, who thinks that arguing about a single number can make a broad history of discrimination against women just go away."

      He claimed nothing of the sort. You're a hack.

    6. Poor brokenhearted hack, you're a lost child.

    7. I sorta figured the comments would prove one thing. Somerby's claim that "everybody knows ..." is not true. Perhaps everybody should know, but clearly some people are fervent believers in the 80% nonsense.

      11: 37 seems to me like a typical online liberal. Anybody who does not accept their shibboleth is not only wrong, but is a lying sack of excrement.

      Of course, it does not help when the one doubting the holy writ is also a male, because they supposedly have a vested interest in doubt.

      Never mind that "women's advocacy groups" also have a clear vested interest. The more they can get people stirred up about the terrible, terrible trouble in River City, the more trombones they can sell.

    8. Bob, You are correct.
      Americans are NOT smart. 63 million of us (including you?) voted for Trump.
      How smart is that?

    9. 11:46 has daddy issues she takes out on Somerby. Either that or she's insane.

      Girl you should confront your neurosis directly and stop fucking around.

    10. And Somerby has mommy issues. That is actually a documented fact.

  3. McCain was born in Panama. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary Canada. Most people would probably say they were born in America, since no big issue has been made about their citizenship.

    On the other hand, a "birther" movement worked hard to create confusion about where Obama was born. It worked best among conservatives, who paid more attention to it. Obama abetted this by writing an autobiography describing his childhood in Indonesia. Absent this, would anyone have doubted his citizenship? Are people dumb because they remember these discussions?

    Somerby tries to portray people as stupid so that when he knocks some popular belief, the fact that people do believe it will support his argument against it, because people are, after all, so stupid.

    Statistics from the Department of Labor are not determined by popular belief. They show that women earn less, and minority women least of all. Everyone believes this because it is true, a fact. You don't disprove a fact by knocking the people who believe it. You need to address the stats.

    Somerby can only address this by narrowly defining "equal work" and attacking anyone who claims that "equal work" is the basis for the 80% figure. When women are not permitted to do equal work, as part of the discrimination against them, a catch-22 is created. Women know what the workplace is like for them. Somerby doesn't convince women with his sophistry. It is men and conservatives who believe this manipulation. Somerby is once again knocking Harris (who is not the only one who touts that 80% figure). Hard to tell if he is doing this because of his weird attitudes toward women, or to promote conservative memes, but he could be doing both, since white supremacists, Republicans and Somerby all share a common denominator of misogyny, which is at the beating heart of why women earn less and why this is a problem that never gets fixed.

    Harris says she is done with this conversation. So are most women. When a man seriously says that women earn the same as men for equal work, a woman knows where that guy stands and that he is not worth further effort. If they are nice, they will continue to nod and smile, while writing him off all lists. Because women, above all people in our society, are taught to be nice. Even Nicole Wallace. Whereas Somerby is clearly not nice, not sharp, and today's bigot in sheep's clothing.

    1. "since no big issue has been made about their citizenship"

      Neither McCain nor Cruz was elected president (not to mention that Cruz wasn't even a candidate in the general election).

      However, if you bothered to use google, dear dembot, you would've quickly discovered at least two lawsuits against McCain's 'natural born citizen' status; one in NH and one in CA. I wonder who initiated those...

    2. The one against McCain was brought by the American Independent Party, not Democrats. Can't find the other one because it is behind a pay wall. You could find out who initiated it and tell us, but I'll bet it wasn't Democrats.

    3. "I'll bet it wasn't Democrats"

      Oh dear. You're adorable.

    4. 12:11

      Interesting to know you feel entitled to speak for most women.

    5. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it.

    6. These statistics and the realities of the workplace are not things that are determined by the opinions of women. They are facts that are measurable and that have been studied many times, so that there is a body of research on the obstacles women face at work.

      This is not a matter of opinion -- not women's opinions, not the opinions of some self-appointed spokesperson, not Harris or her campaign staff, not Maddow, and certainly not Somerby. Go to the Dept of Lhat 80% figure comes from their webapges. No woman made it up. It, and many other stats, describe the problems women face trying to earn a living.

    7. Sorry -- some text accidentally deleted:

      Go to the Dept of Labor, Women's Bureau, webpage. That 80% figure...

    8. Why then do you reckon did Harris claim she misspoke?

    9. Debmot, ask your dembot supervisor to give you a new script, please. You're embarrassing the whole Soros-dembot enterprise.

      The "for equal work" thing was explained by Bob and others a million times already.

  4. "If that helps describe his mental state, what can we say about ours?"

    That you're TDS-suffering zombies, craving anti-Trump slur, I suppose.

    As for the ordinary people, they are fine, but obviously somewhat affected by manipulations perpetrated by the liberal zombie media.

    But that's nothing new, dear Bob.

    1. Liberal media?

      You're lazier than President Establishment. Try to update your 1990s shtick, instead of beating off to photos of children in cages.

    2. Liberal zombies created the birther movement? I don't think so.

  5. There is a scene in Legally Blonde where the admissions committee considers declining Elle's application to law school because she was a merchandising major in college, despite her perfect gpa and high LSAT scores. It shows the way men devalue the activities and interests of women, discount them, refuse to give them equal weight with males. To their credit, they admitted her, but the humor of the film revolves around the gap between a male-dominated field and a talented woman who retains her female orientation.

    Unfortunately, the workplace as a whole has not changed to be fair to women. Major sectors exclude women from high paying roles and stigmatize and disadvantage them when they try to compete. Silicon Valley is a good example, finance is another, and look at representation in government and politics. Even in the TV and movie industry, there is a serious lack of representation, even in front of the camera.

    Somerby is seriously wrong about his complaint over the 80% figure. He doesn't bother trying to understand why so many people believe what he claims is bogus. Denigrating the thinking of others prevents him from exploring the issue and figuring out what he is missing. But he doesn't respect others enough to figure they might be onto something he has missed.

    Easier to try to convince us all that people are stupid, and that women just don't deserve to be paid equally, maybe because all those women are lazy, incompetent, or stupid too -- they'd have to be to earn only 80% of what men do in the fair job market Somerby thinks must exist to support his claim that the 80% figure is bogus.

    1. Except for one huge glaring thing. What you are talking about is NOT unequal pay for equal work.

      You claim that women make 80 cents on the dollar because they are somehow kept out of high paying jobs like US Senator.

      The equal pay nonsense claims that a male US Senator makes $174,000 and that a female US Senator, if such a thing could exist, would only make $139,200 for doing the exact same job.

    2. Don’t know what your degree is in, Doctor, but your comment is pretty stupid.

  6. "Obama wasn't born here! This has been one of the most remarkable stated beliefs in American political history."

    Oh yeah? But apparently it was, once, Barry's belief too, otherwise why would he tell his literary agent that he is "born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii"?

    1. Why does the right keep repeating this long debunked claim?

  7. “persistent survey results raised the most obvious questions about the overall mental state of us the very sharp American people—indeed, about our species, Homo sapiens, an allegedly "rational" group.”

    And yet, in post after post, Somerby has told us about the spectacular rise in NAEP test scores over the past 40 years, and how pundits are wrong when they imply that our schools are in trouble.

    1. People tend to know things that are relevant to their lives. These survey merely illustrate the irrelevance of the questions. Why should the average person know where Obama was born, especially if it is not part of their voting decision-making?

      I would bet that most of the respondents were out of school for many years, during which time, the name of the president would have changed a few times.

    2. "These survey merely illustrate the irrelevance of the questions."

      True dat. Very good point indeed.

      I guess Bob is imagining that the "mental state" of most people must be similar to his: watching establishment media's bullshit political shows all day, and interpreting every smirk of the clowns participating in them.

  8. Somerby is describing the two statements “Obama was not born in the US” and “women earn 80% of what men earn for the same work” as equally delusional.

    The problem is that birtherism is easily falsifiable.

    The pay gap issue is much more complex and nuanced. Despite an equal pay law enacted under JFK, a new law was deemed necessary when Obama was president, the Lily Ledbetter act.

    Since the information about salaries of employees at private companies is not available to the employees, how is anyone supposed to know whether women are paid what the men are for the same work? This is precisely what led to the Ledbetter act: Ledbetter had no knowledge of the pay disparity at her company until it was too late to do anything about it.

    This is a situation that Harris is trying to address with her proposal.

    Ultimately, this is about the larger context in which women historically had few to no choice other than to be homemakers and remain financially dependent on men. The situation has improved, but this legacy remains, it is verifiably true that there are some professions where women do make far less than men, and it is exacerbated by the fact that women are still the child bearers, which often forces choices (and lower-paying jobs) on them that men simply don’t face.

  9. Why is Somerby working so hard, writing so many articles, to overturn that 80% statistic?

    What is his percentage in portraying women as lying whiners and a promising female candidate as dishonest?

    What could Somerby possibly have to gain from so much effort?

    1. Liberals not being portrayed as dishonest by Republicans and potential Democrat voters.

    2. Meanwhile, the Liar In Chief has lied 12,000 times since he took office.

    3. Those are funny questions.

      You have somebody who writes something, for example, "X is true".

      And then you wonder "why did he write that?"

      You seem to assume "Well, he cannot really believe that X is true, so he must have some other motive for saying what he did."

      The same question could be asked of Harris. Does she really believe the 80% nonsense, or is she just going along with it and promoting it for political gain?

      We on the left have been attacking Trump and Trump supporters on this basis. We claim that Trump says things which are not true. Then when he is corrected, he pays no attention to that and just keeps on saying them, and his deluded supporters continue to believe these impossible things - even before breakfast.

      Ironic, then, that the other side can see some of us doing the same thing with Harris and the 80% myth.

      Of course, that myth is widely (and perhaps fervently) believed by a majority of Democratic primary voters, so no candidate running for President on the Democratic ticket is going to challenge it.

    4. What is the truth, oh Doctor? Do you have anything to back up your claim that the “80%” is purely a myth? And to what extent it is in the same category as the birther myth?

    5. 2:33

      If you don't get it, you don't get it.

  10. Bob has written his "curriculum vitae" and eagerly awaits his interview with Rupert Murdoch and Sean Hannity. He will be groomed to be the next Alan Colmes.
    Before you leave us for FOX Bob, about a month ago you promised to re-visit your 5 years as a 5th Grade teacher in Baltimore and explain how segregation was a good thing for your students.
    Stop pretending. Come out as the right wing nut that you are.
    Murdoch might not like that, but there is money to be made.


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