9780767926157

Idiot America

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780767926157

  • ISBN10:

    0767926153

  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 5/4/2010
  • Publisher: Anchor

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Summary

The Culture Wars Are Over and the Idiots Have Won. A veteran journalist's acidically funny, righteously angry lament about the glorification of ignorance in the United States. In the midst of a career-long quest to separate the smart from the pap, Charles Pierce had a defining moment at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, where he observed a dinosaur. Wearing a saddle.... But worse than this was when the proprietor exclaimed to a cheering crowd, "We are taking the dinosaurs back from the evolutionists!" He knew then and there it was time to try and salvage the Land of the Enlightened, buried somewhere in this new Home of the Uninformed. With his razor-sharp wit and erudite reasoning, Pierce delivers a gut-wrenching, side-splitting lament about the glorification of ignorance in the United States, and how a country founded on intellectual curiosity has somehow deteriorated into a nation of simpletons more apt to vote for an American Idol contestant than a presidential candidate. With Idiot America, Pierce's thunderous denunciation is also a secret call to action, as he hopes that somehow, being intelligent will stop being a stigma, and that pinheads will once again be pitied, not celebrated.

Author Biography

Charles P. Pierce is a staff writer for the Boston Globe Magazine, a contributing writer for Esquire, and a frequent contributor to American Prospect and Slate. His work has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Nation, The Atlantic, and the Chicago Tribune, among other publications, and he is a regular on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and Only a Game.
 
Visit the author's wbsite at www.charlespierce.net.

Excerpts

The Prince of Cranks

Ralph Ketchum sits on the porch of his little house tucked away on a dirt lane that runs down toward a lake, pouring soda for his guest and listening to the thrum of the rain on his roof. He has been talking to a visitor about the great subject of his academic life–James Madison, the diminutive hypochondriac from Virginia who, in 1787, overthrew the U.S. government and did so simply by being smarter than everyone else. American popular history seems at this point to have de­volved into a Founding Father of the Month Club, with several huge books on Alexander Hamilton selling briskly, an almost limitless fascination with Thomas Jefferson, a steady stream of folks spelunking through George Washington’s psyche, and an HBO project starring the Academy Award winner Paul Giamatti as that impossible old blatherskite John Adams. But Madison, it seems, has been abandoned by Þlmmakers and by the writers of lushly footnoted doorstops. He also was a mediocre president; this never translates well to the screen, where all presidents are great men.

There are two things that make Jefferson superior to Madison in the historical memory,says Ketchum. One was Jeffer­son’s magnetism in small groups and the other was his gift for the eloquent phrase. Madison has always been a trailer in that way because, well, he writes perfectly well and, occasionally, manages some eloquence. Occasionally.

Madison was not a social lion. In large gatherings, Ketchum writes, people often found him stiff, reserved, cold, even aloof and supercilious. He relaxed only in small settings, among peo­ple he knew, and while discussing issues of which he felt he had command. He therefore seldom made a good first impression,writes Ketchum, seldom overawed a legislative body at his first appearance, and seldom figured in the spicy or dramatic events of which gossip and headlines are made.Madison thought, is what he did, and thinking makes very bad television.
However, for all his shyness and lack of inherent charisma, Madison did manage to woo and win Dolley Payne Todd, the most eligible widow of the time. Ketchum points out that the Virginian came calling having decked himself out in a new beaver hat. (The introductions were made by none other than Aaron Burr, who certainly did get around. If you’re keeping score, this means that Burr is responsible for the marriage of one of the authors of theFederalistand the death of another, having subsequently introduced Alexander Hamilton to a bullet in Weehawken.) He did win Dolley.Ketchum smiles. He had to have something going for him there.
Ketchum’s fascination with Madison began in graduate school at the University of Chicago. His mentor, the historian Stuart Brown, encouraged Ketchum to do his doctoral disserta­tion on Madison’s political philosophy. Ketchum finished the dissertation in 1956. He also spent four years working as an edi­tor of Madison’s papers at the University of Chicago. He began work on his massive biography of Madison in the mid-1960s and didn’t finish the book until 1971.
Partly, Ketchum says, the hook was through my mentor, Stuart Brown, and I think I absorbed his enthusiasm, which was for the founding period in general. He said that he thought Madison had been neglected–my wife calls him ‘the Charlie Brown of the Founding Fathers’–and that he was more impor­tant, so that set me to work on him.
Madison was always the guy under the hood, tinkering with the invention he’d helped to devise in Philadelphia, when he im­proved the Articles of Confederation out of existence. You can see that in the correspondence between them–Jefferson and Madison. Madison was always toning Jefferson down a little bit. Henry Clay said that Jefferson had more genius but that Madison had better judgment–that Jefferson was more bril­liant, but t

Excerpted from Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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