Stupidity comes in several forms, of vastly different character, from the innocent to the vile. Let’s start with the innocent.
Austin Street in the Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills is narrow and busy, but to the exasperation of those who traverse it regularly, a two-way street nonetheless. To certain officials who get paid by the City of New York to ignore problems, there is nothing going on here that isn’t covered by Alfred E. Neuman’s timeless motto, “What, me worry?” Unfazed by fierce shoppers engaged in death duels for scarce parking spots, such bureaucratic types are equipped by temperament and training to look serenely on the snarl of double-parked louts and conclude that everything is happening for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
The other day, a woman driving west caught sight of a gap between two cars on the opposite side. As big deals go, this is middling: a lesser event than winning the state lottery; maybe comparable to spying an oasis after a long day’s crawl across the Sahara.
Stopping dead, our heroine pondered the mysteries of the broken U-turn. While shakers and movers may perform well under pressure, the less gifted block two lanes of traffic to fumble a maneuver that fledgling drivers are required to execute on their road test. Let the record show that attempting this maneuver at the peak of the afternoon’s bustle was highly inconsiderate and flatly illegal.
With excruciating deliberation, abetted by living saints who -- honest to God -- backed up their own cars (presumably they were all liberals) to give her room, she rocked back-and-forth, altering her position by tiny increments, gradually pitching alongside the object of her lust. I suppose that now would be the time to mention that the space was barely big enough for a bicycle.
You may surmise that such a performance left her feeling pretty sheepish. If so, you haven’t reckoned with the phenomenon I’m describing. She was angry. She glared and mouthed curses and waved her hands. If this nasty vignette conveys anything at all, it is that embarrassment never entered the picture.
Still, she had nothing on this guy.
The plane sat on the tarmac for almost an hour, the air-conditioning outclassed by the Las Vegas heat. At last, word came that we were next in line for takeoff. A flight attendant announced that all electronic devices had to be turned off, which our hero, a character straight out of central casting for The Sopranos, interpreted to mean that he should open his cell phone and dial a number. Several passengers grew even hotter and the guy -- we’ll call him Guido -- demanded to know, as he put it, who wanted to argue with him. It turned out that all those people shouting threats wanted, at minimum, to argue with him. Eventually, a few of the stockier crewmembers intervened, acting on the plausible assumption that there might be some merit in actually getting the flight off the ground. The jerk thought fast, sat on his phone, and put on his most innocent face. No doubt his inspired ruse would have earned a better fate had it not been for all those pointing fingers. Chastened, he remained quiet for the duration of the flight.
On reaching New York, he made a groveling apology to the large, menacing-looking Jamaican man (scratch another stereotype) seated directly across the aisle. The decks cleared, he turned his attention to me.
Hey, yo, I should learn to mind my own business. A counter-suggestion that he should learn to follow simple instructions was met by a geyser of abuse. Pluckily forging ahead, I asked him to explain how his disruption of a flight that was my flight too was not my business. That got me more graphic images of mayhem. I’ve learned over the years to recognize the telltale signs of Arguments That I Can’t Win, so at that point I contented myself with the observation that although Goodfellas was an entertaining film, he might want to open himself to the possibility that he had seen it a few too many times.
All right, the connecting thread is not exactly concealed. The woman driver (how often are antiquated sexist stereotypes so right on the money?) and the jackass on the plane are, obviously, dimwitted boors. But that’s only part of it. To explain why their behavior strikes us as so utterly repellent requires identifying the key component.
Stupidity, with the right face, can be charming. When it’s meek, when it knows its place, it’s usually inoffensive, and can be almost admirable (think Forest Gump). Stupidity that flaunts ignorance and seeks out opportunities to go toe-to-toe with real knowledge is another story altogether, being at once dismaying and frightening. Nowadays, that kind is rampant throughout the land. Call it, Aggressive Stupidity.
If those two words don’t conjure up the image of Rosie O’Donnell, you no doubt inhabit a sweet little island far removed from the zeitgeist.
O’Donnell, who is called the Queen of Nice for the same reasons that Walter Cronkite was anointed Most Trusted Voice in America (hint: it has a teensy bit to do with their politics), came out of yet another closet to lend support to Loose Change, an amateurish film that purports to reveal the “truth” about the events of September 11, 2001. Its revelations are buried in an unholy mess of bogus science, distorted quotes, and outright falsehoods, but such trifling details matter little to Rosie, who is every bit as nice as Uncle Walter was trustworthy (he spun the Vietcong’s near annihilation in the crushing defeat of the Tet offensive into a victory for North Vietnam). All you really need to know is that she believes that fire cannot weaken steel. No blacksmiths have ever appeared on a show hosted or co-hosted by her.
We can now hope to make sense of a tweet posted by Jared Polis, a Democratic Congressclown from Colorado, attacking Republican Senator Tom Cotton for his role in sending a letter to the government of Iran: “Tehran Tom took his case directly to the Iranian government.” Polis underlined his point: “Tehran Tom asks Revolutionary Guards for help in battle against US diplomats.” Other liberals are suggesting that Cotton is the new Hanoi Jane.
The analysis should be easy for us. The aggressiveness is manifest: Attack those Republicans! Never relent! Ignore context! Don’t worry about logic! Press them! Attack! Don’t stop attacking!
The mind-numbing stupidity explodes from the page. Hanoi Jane Fonda worked tirelessly for a communist victory in Vietnam. The “Hanoi” part of the epithet refers to her allegiance to the war aims of, well, Hanoi.
Tom Cotton is a patriot who wants to protect America from a potentially disastrous deal forged by a radical leftist president. He does not support Tehran’s aims; he opposes them as we might reasonably wish our Commander-in-Chief did. He does not, in any rational, coherent sense, ask for help from Iran’s Republican Guards.
Always bear in mind the two words when approaching the left’s latest outrage: Aggressive. Stupidity.