The inaccurate insult: how politics makes for idiotic word choices

During a break between observing focus groups for an unrelated project, with nothing but M&Ms for sustenance, I started researching an essay I was writing about former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. The client happened to walk up, and, bored as I was, he glanced at my screen.

“Janet Napolitano,” he said, “what an idiot.”

“Hold your politics,” I laughingly brushed him off, and we left it at that.

The essay will appear in a book entitled 48 Most Intriguing Women of Arizona. I doubt all the women profiled are indeed intriguing, but Napolitano certainly is, not the least of which for her intelligence.

Napolitano is no idiot, and no amount of political or ideological disapproval can accurately put her there. Yet neither is the guy who called her an idiot. Granted, the evening was getting late and we’d watched two full focus group sessions with one to go. But where does he come off with such a blatantly inaccurate insult?

The answer it seems is ideological agreement. In a red state like AZ, this otherwise intelligent entrepreneur could allow himself to mindlessly bluster, because he expected ideological agreement to carry the day anyway.

When we agree ideologically, it doesn’t seem to matter how poorly we articulate our point, or even if we are making one at all. When our discourse is always with those who agree ideologically, we rarely get challenged on the strength of our rhetoric, whether spoken or written.

Then again, it could have just been all the M&Ms.

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