Friday, February 17, 2012

Santorum's Mediocre Mind

Reading one of Dan Larison's recent posts on Rick Santorum, I was reminded of the Dunning-Kruger effect,
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which the unskilled suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.
Santorum seems to be a man of average intelligence, but appears to sincerely believe that he holds the answers to every question of law, policy and ethics. Although unlike Newt Gingrich he does not have a habit of expressly stating that he has all of the answers, it's difficult to think of an issue upon which he won't speak with considerable confidence without revealing a fundamental ignorance of the facts or an implied disdain for anybody who holds a different opinion. I am astonished that he remains a credible candidate for the Republican nomination, but as with Newt Gingrich's undeserved double-bounce it's not a question of merit - with apologies to Ron Paul, as far as voters who don't care for Romney are concerned, he's the last man standing.

In an editorial aptly titled "Small Thinking", the New York Times highlights some of Santorum's recent platitudinous prattle on issues such as taxation, public assistance, jobs, education and religion. Referring to Larison's comments, let's not forget that he's also hopeless on military and foreign policy.

Santorum is, in effect, a poster child for what has gone wrong with the Republican Party. Santorum is viewed by a huge number of likely primary voters as a superior option to Romney, not because he has anything to offer as a candidate, not because he understands the important issues the country faces, but because he's a "social conservative". He passes the right set of litmus tests - the ones that the same voters fear Romney's lying about. But if you can't lie convincingly on those issues, the Republican Party has made it somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible to win the party's nomination. Can you even imagine an openly pro-choice Republican running for President? How about one who asserts the fundamental truth that in order to balance the budget we must not only cut spending, we must also raise taxes? Same sex marriage, climate change, immigration, health care... depart from the party's orthodoxy at your own risk.

I'm not going to argue that there is a huge list (or even a small list) of Republicans waiting in the wings who would be materially better than Romney, either as a candidate or as President. The "dream team" names that are thrown out by pundits often seem to include only candidates who are untested or who have significant flaws and deficits that would make their quest for the nomination as difficult as that of Romney. Or Huntsman. Or Gingrich. But "dream candidates" aside, pretty much everybody else who actually ran would be a superior alternative to Santorum.

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