Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Paul Ryan-- Much Stupider Than You Probably Imagined

Most politicians are too cagey to submit to the kind of standardized testing they've forced on students and are trying to force on teachers. So is there any objective way to measure a politician's intelligence (beyond just his or her record of accomplishment)? Probably not. BUT the Sunlight Foundation just conducted an interesting experiment that is somewhat helpful in measuring politicians' intelligence-- at least as much as intelligence can be correlated to the ability to communicate in formal speech. It may not be definitive in helping explain, for example, why Paul Ryan is as fixated as an adolescent fan boy on tawdry, low-grade novelist Ayn Rand, or why he keeps coming up with deranged proposals, couched in "serious" Madison Avenue-speak, to wreck America's social fabric, but the test shows him at a 9th grade level, which... well, make a lot of sense to anyone who has followed Paul Ryan's politics. He's been able to hoodwink the Beltway media-- much of which is at a 6th grade level-- but Ryan is a clown and has always been a clown. He sounds "intelligent" to the same kind of people who buy into the hype that Newt Gingrich and Rich Nixon are legitimate intellectuals. They're not and neither is Ryan.
Congress now speaks at almost a full grade level lower than it did just seven years ago, with the most conservative members of Congress speaking on average at the lowest grade level, according to a new Sunlight Foundation analysis of the Congressional Record using Capitol Words.

Of course, what some might interpret as a dumbing down of Congress, others will see as more effective communications. And lawmakers of both parties still speak above the heads of the average American, who reads at between an 8th and 9th grade level.

Today’s Congress speaks at about a 10.6 grade level, down from 11.5 in 2005. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 grade level, and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level. The Gettysburg Address comes in at an 11.2 grade level and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is at a 9.4 grade level. Most major newspapers are written at between an 11th and 14th grade level.

All these analyses use the Flesch-Kincaid test, which produces the 'reads at a n-th grade level' terminology that is likely familiar to many readers. At its core, Flesch-Kincaid equates higher grade levels with longer words and longer sentences. It is important to understand the limitations of this metric: it tells us nothing about the clarity or correctness of a passage of text. But although an admittedly crude tool, Flesch-Kincaid can nonetheless provide insights into how different legislators speak, and how Congressional speech has been changing. ...Overall, the complexity of speech in the Congressional Record has declined steadily since 2005, with the drop among Republicans slightly outpacing that for Democrats.

You can look at the entire chart here but here are the 10 worst performing Members of Congress.

As you can see, all of them are Republicans and most of them are teabaggers and freshmen. The only senior congressmember in the lot is Todd Akin of Missouri who has a well-earned reputation as one of Congress' dimmest bulbs. The GOP is running him for Senate this year. Ryan performed at a 9.66 level, the 55th worst of the entire 530 people analyzed in Congress. He was fractionally better than Ted Poe, a lunatic fringe Texas backbencher and birther who has been asked to keep quiet and not embarrass the party with any more rambling quotations from his idol, KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, and to stop trying to force Christian prayers on all military casualties regardless of their own religion or their families' preferences. So, Ryan's a tiny fraction smarter than that.

Amanda Terkel wrote up the study for HuffPo Monday and concludes that members of Congress are now talking, on average, at the level of high school sophomores, a precipitous decline due almost entirely to the GOP teabagger freshman class. The lowest score, of course, went to South Carolina teabagger Mick Mulvaney, considered a joke even among Republican staffers, who is the only Member of Congress who speaks on a level below an average 8th grader. Mulvaney is more of a doofus than Michele Bachmann (9.52), Aaron Schock's boyfriend Adam Kinzinger (8.99), John Bircher Paul Broun (9.30), Lynn "Mr. 10 Commandments" Westmoreland (9.54), dog-lover Steve King (10.14) or Congress' dumbest closet case, Patrick McHenry (10.21). Even raging homophobic imbecile Virginia Foxx beat him with a 10.68!

Anyway, back to Amanda at HuffPo. After examining the data, she came to the same conclusion I did-- and anyone would have to: "The members speaking at the lowest grade levels tend to be freshmen Republicans."
Before 2005, Republicans spoke, on average, at a slightly higher grade level than Democrats. Since then, Democrats have been slightly higher.

Sunlight did not reach a definitive conclusion on why lawmakers' speech patterns have become simpler over time, although Drutman wrote in a blog post, "Perhaps it reflects lawmakers speaking more in talking points, and increasingly packaging their floor speeches for YouTube. Gone, perhaps, are the golden days when legislators spoke to persuade each other, thoughtfully wrestled with complex policy trade-offs, and regularly quoted Shakespeare."

So now we get a freak show like Ted Poe quoting the founder of the KKK instead. Wouldn't you rather hear Paul Ryan coming out with something this based on his understanding of Hamlet:
Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry... As my mentor Ayn has explained This above all: to thine own self be true.

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