The smoke stacks at American Electric PoEvery important issue facing our community and our nation at large is dominated by a dialogue of nonsense, calculation and pandering to the lowest common denominator. We are trapped in a discourse of dumbness with no incentive for change.

In the Kentucky Senate race, which will finally, mercifully end in two weeks, the major party candidates still fight to out-dumb each other. At least Mitch McConnell’s shtick is consistent — we know what to expect after 30 years. But his challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, seems hell-bent on out-Republicaning the most powerful Republican in the country.

Last week, Grimes launched a campaign ad attacking undocumented immigrants. She took a hardline stance against “illegals” (pro tip: Don’t reduce human lives to a legal status) and vowed never to support any kind of amnesty program. This is a harder stance against immigrant citizenship than some Republicans are willing to take.

And don’t forget coal. Even though only a tiny fraction of Kentucky’s workers are miners and the coal industry has been in decline here for decades, both candidates have struggled mightily to prove their pro-coal bona fides. And on the closely related topic of the environment, McConnell deflects all questions about climate change with the disclaimer that he’s “not a scientist.” 

McConnell Grimes
McConnell is not a scientist; Grimes is not an Obama supporter.

If you happen to be someone who wants Kentucky to lead the country in clean, renewable energy sources, or who thinks undocumented immigrants should be treated as human beings, you’re out of luck at the ballot box this time around. And yet you’ll still show up to vote anyway.

Grimes knows most Democrats hate McConnell enough to hold their noses for her. She panders endlessly to swing voters because she can count on anti-Mitch liberals to choose whoever has the “D” next to their name on the ballot. Case in point: The otherwise principled Kentuckians for the Commonwealth lambasted Grimes’ hateful advertising but still promised to help her get elected because they dislike McConnell even more.

All of this dumbness isn’t unique to Kentucky. It infects pretty much every topic in the news. Consider Ebola. If you watch the cable news channels, you’d think the virus was spreading like wildfire and killing Americans by the thousands. That’s not at all true, but the panic-mongers on television keep beating the drums of fear, and now we have people wearing face masks in public to protect themselves from a virus that isn’t even airborne. Meanwhile, the flu still kills more than 30,000 people per year, and people only really fear diseases when they don’t like the guy in the White House.

Speaking of which, Grimes still won’t publicly admit she voted for President Obama. Like McConnell’s cowardice on climate change, Grimes won’t risk aligning herself with a black president in a state where many voters hate him for little more than his skin color.

And there is nothing dumber than the way we talk about race. In St. Louis, peaceful demonstrators have maintained multi-month protests against the shooting death of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson. These protests may be annoying to many, but they are not violent. Yet the constant barrage of criticism, insults and accusations against them continues. On Sunday, noisy but unthreatening protesters were attacked by football fans who stole a flag and started a fight. The police arrested the protesters, of course.

A good ol' Mountaineer car flip.
A good ol’ Mountaineer car flip.

In other white violence news, riots broke out in Morgantown, W.Va., and Keene, N.H., this past weekend. It was a typical display of chaos for the home of the Mountaineers, which is often set upon by drunken mobs of mostly white arsonists during football season. In Keene, a crowd of inebriated caucasians near the town’s annual Pumpkin Fest threw bottles, flipped cars and set fires for no apparent reason at all.

Any time an African-American is shot by the police, he is smeared as a thug or criminal who represents a corrupt culture devoid of responsibility and paternal guidance (regardless of the actual facts). When white people flip cars, torch couches and cause general mayhem just for the fun of it, they’re just “a few bad apples” not representative of an otherwise decent, upstanding community.

This hypocritical, racist double standard allows us to ignore serious institutional problems such as police brutality and college alcohol abuse. We let our prejudice and our limited perspectives blind us to needed social change.

But who am I kidding? Our national dialogue is dumb because our leaders need it to be that way. They pander to the lowest common denominator because that’s how they get elected and how they keep the campaign cash flowing. If Kentucky voters won’t bother to educate themselves on issues that matter, who are politicians to demand they do so? In politics, there’s no incentive for intelligence.

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Joe Dunman is a Louisville, Kentucky attorney whose practice focuses on civil rights and employment law. He tweets @JoeDunman and blogs at


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