Tom Eblen

Kentuckians who reject educated ideas pay the cost

Some Kentuckians will believe anything, unless they hear it from a person well educated on the subject.

Historians have long noted Kentucky's anti-intellectual streak, which has helped keep the state near the bottom of national rankings in education, income and other measures of progress.

Some Kentuckians fear change and scorn "elites," who are generally defined as anyone better-educated or more broad-minded than they are.

I happened upon an interesting example last week while driving back from an interview in London. I was flipping through the radio channels and heard WVLK talk-show host Sue Wylie introducing Charles Haywood as her guest that hour.

Haywood is a Ph.D. economist and retired dean of the University of Kentucky's Gatton College of Business and Economics. He was Kentucky's first economic development secretary and is a former research director for Bank of America. He has appeared on Wylie's show several times recently to discuss the economic crisis.

Wylie framed that morning's show around this question: Are Barack Obama's tax proposals socialism?

Haywood politely explained that returning tax rates for people earning more than $250,000 a year to pre-Bush administration levels was hardly socialism. Using that measure, he joked, you would have to call the tax policies that prevailed during Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration in the 1950s communism.

But Wylie and her audience were having none of it. She justified the assertion by repeatedly saying "a lot of people are talking about this." Of course, she didn't explain that those people are McCain and his surrogates.

Many people who called in to the show argued with Haywood and dismissed his expertise. At least one called him a liberal — talk radio's favorite insult.

"I was surprised that so many people just didn't really understand what's going on, and certainly are misinformed about some things," Haywood said when I called later to ask him about the show.

"I was trying to explain it to my wife, Judy, too," Haywood said. "I said, well, there is just a lot of anti-intellectual sentiment out there. ... It's awfully hard to explain irrationality. It is a curious reaction from people who are obviously in a fairly low- to middle-income group and would benefit from a tax change."

Haywood favors Obama's economic proposals over McCain's, although he didn't say so on the air. He's not alone.

An informal survey of academic economists by The Economist magazine found that "a majority — at times by overwhelming margins — believe Mr. Obama has the superior economic plan, a firmer grasp on economics and will appoint better economic advisers."

Haywood went on: "The thing that's so shocking to me is really the extent to which McCain has played fast and loose with the proposals of Obama." Actually, it is in complete character with McCain's increasingly shrill and desperate campaign.

For me, this election was an easy call. George W. Bush's presidency has been a disaster. His tax breaks for the wealthy, giveaways to big business and aversion to government regulation have wrecked the economy and racked up a staggering public debt. The cake was iced with a huge bailout for the financial-services industry, which seems more interested in using public money to buy up weak rivals than in easing the credit crunch.

Rather than finish the job in Afghanistan, Bush led the nation into a senseless war in Iraq. Now we're bogged down in both places, and Osama bin Laden still runs free. Bush has ignored the Constitution, embraced torture and government secrecy and seriously damaged America's image among our allies. His administration has favored ideology over science, and it has consistently played to fear rather than reason.

The last thing America needs is another four years of the Republican policies that got us into this mess. And McCain's decision to put Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin a 72-year-old heartbeat away from leadership of the free world says all I need to know about his judgment.

I find it interesting that people such as Warren Buffett, one of America's most successful capitalists, and Gen. Colin Powell, Bush's former secretary of state, have endorsed Obama's ideas and leadership over McCain's.

Many intelligent Kentuckians I know and like are supporting John McCain. Many are more comfortable with Republican ideology, or they prefer McCain's résumé and leadership to Obama's. I respect that.

What I can't respect, though, is the gullibility and willful ignorance of Kentuckians who buy into and perpetuate right-wing fear-mongering.

How else to explain recent poll results that show 14 percent of Kentuckians — and 28 percent of Kentucky Republicans — think Obama is Muslim, even though it's a well-publicized fact that he's Christian. Like Obama's race, it shouldn't even matter. But we all know that it does to some people.

We must replace fear with hope, ideology with logic and ignorance with education. The stakes are simply too high.