When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
— Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou, meet Herschel Walker, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Here he is on the Inflation Reduction Act: “A lot of money, it’s going to trees … We’ve got enough trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”
And on school shootings: “What about gettin’ a department that can look at young men that’s lookin’ at women that’s looking at just social media? What about doing that?”
And on air pollution: “Since we don’t control the air, our good air decide to float over to China’s bad air, so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we got to clean that back up.”
Through such acts of gibberish Walker has shown us who he is and then some. So when the would-be Georgia senator said last week, “I’m not that smart,” well, it’s not like anyone fainted from shock. Unless it was shock that he spoke the truth, something with which Walker — who has claimed both a college degree and FBI experience he does not have — has little acquaintance.
He was answering a reporter’s question about his preparation for an Oct. 14 debate with incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. “I’m this country boy,” said Walker. “I’m not that smart. And he’s that preacher, he’s a smart man, wear these nice suits. So he’s gonna show up and embarrass me.”
Some observers considered this an effort to lower expectations, so that Walker “wins” the debate by pronouncing his own name right when he takes the stage. That’s at odds, though, with the fact that Walker keeps claiming Warnock is afraid to debate him. For the record, it was Walker who declined an Oct. 13 date because, he said, he didn’t want to be scheduled against Sunday night football.
Oct. 13 is a Thursday.
So one doubts Walker is even smart enough to lower expectations about how smart he is. And yet, the polls say he could be Georgia’s next senator.
Which suggests that America’s historic tendency to equate ignorance with authenticity, its distrust of leaders who seem too smart, is still alive and well. One recalls Adlai Stevenson, the 1952 presidential candidate who was famously derided as an “egghead.” And all the presidential wannabes with Ivy League degrees who descend on Midwest fairgrounds every four years, sleeves rolled up, eating fried butter, droppin’ “g’s” like loose coins and otherwise tryin’ to pass for regular folks. But maybe leaders shouldn’t be “regular folks.” Maybe it’s not the worst thing if they were allowed to be, well … smart.
That’s not to say a leader should live on such a rarefied intellectual plane as to be inaccessible to common folk. But maybe we should disabuse ourselves of the idea that leaders must be just like us. Have you met us? More to the point, shouldn’t we want them to be a little better than us, i.e., to have a broader and deeper knowledge of policy and international affairs than the guy at the next bar stool?
Instead, we get the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louie Gohmert and Lauren Boebert, people who could not pour water from a bucket if the instructions were printed on the bottom. Now comes Herschel Walker, fresh evidence of the American conviction that any moron can run a country. One has doubts this guy could run a garbage disposal.
“I’m not that smart,” he says. And you know something?
It almost sounded like he was bragging.
Leonard Pitts Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a columnist for the Miami Herald, where this column originally appeared.