The world is getting dumber, or there’s something in the water in Northeast Ohio

If Jim Traficant wins a seat in Congress this fall, I may have to move. How could I live in a state of collective stupidity? That we’re even discussing “candidate” Traficant is downright crazy, and it has me wondering what’s happened to critical thinking.

Jim Traficant

You remember Jimbo, don’t you? He’s the former congressman from Ohio’s 17th District who spent the past 7 years in federal lockup, convicted of bribery and racketeering. He’s back, and a cadre of loyalists want to send him back to Washington.

Best known for his bad toupee and comical rants (“Beam me up, Scotty!), Traficant served Ohio’s Mahoning Valley in a time when the last of the manufacturing base collapsed. He’s viewed as a fighter by his constituents, a buffoon by his Washington colleagues. His rhetoric can be inflammatory, but for all his bluster, Jimbo comes across as a Joe-six-pack kinda guy.

Traficant was amusing, and his rhetoric still channels the anger of his constituents. Jimbo pointed accusing fingers at pols on both sides of the aisle, but presented few ideas of his own. During those 17 years on Capitol Hill, Traficant’s corrupt supporters lined his pockets with goodies that would later be used as evidence against him.

At an fundraiser for the libertarians Wednesday, Traficant agreed to an interview with our local newspaper. My favorite excerpt from that session: “The Democrat & Republican parties have failed. Both are worthless as tits on a bullfrog.” His campaign slogan, “Stimulate this!” also emerged.

Voters who sent Traficant to Congress between 1985 and 2002 gave him a hero’s welcome when he returned from the penitentiary. He’s a media darling, too. Clear Channel’s 50,000-watt WTAM, based in Cleveland, gave the guy his own radio show last month. I know that’s asinine, but not surprising. WTAM features a 24/7 line-up of nattering nitwits, including “activist” Art McKoy, who’s been charged with running a cocaine distribution ring from his barber shop.

Have we lost our capacity to think?

This post isn’t about politics. It’s just me fretting over loss of critical analysis and sane public discourse.

Over the past few months I’ve read a handful of essays from writers concerned that our shallow online world may be killing critical thinking. The question, “Is Google making us stupid?” deserves serious discussion and research. But most of us are too busy clicking the next video or posting clever tweets.

Jim Traficant isn’t a product of the Internet age, and we sure can’t blame his popularity on social media. He was a crook long before there was a World Wide Web. But the attention given Jimbo’s possible run for Congress — online and off — has me wondering when people became so vacuous. And when did the media gatekeepers lose their sense of what’s newsworthy?

Not that long ago, we depended upon news professionals to explain issues in depth and with some level of objectivity. Sure, newspaper publishers had way too much influence. But they employed trained observers who vetted information that helped us see the world more clearly. Their work brought order that you won’t find at Little Green Footballs or The Daily Kos.

Today, our conversations are in little clusters of  “people like us.” It’s easier that way, and we get to feel like we’re right all the time.

Call me a paranoid old fart, but splintering media environment scares the hell out of me. Once the media stop serving the watchdog function, folks like Jim Traficant have a chance to exert their influence, as silly as that sounds.

I hope, as a society, we’re not that dumb. But a Traficant for Congress campaign has me wondering, and worrying.

12 Responses to The world is getting dumber, or there’s something in the water in Northeast Ohio

  1. Bill Sledzik says:

    For what it’s worth, I was even more terrified when the “Intelligent Design” movement gained significant momentum here in Ohio (mostly south of I-70). I’m not sure what’s scarier, Jim Traficant going to Congress or the Book of Genesis being taught in science class. Before you call me crazy, you’d better read this.

  2. […] issue in the field, and sure enough, Bill has blogged about it at ToughSledding. His most recent post centers on critical thinking, which over the years has developed into one of the central issues in my life. But, that obsession […]

  3. I hope you’re wrong, but I fear you’re right.

    Critical thinking is hard. We don’t like hard. Critical thinking challenges our assumptions. We don’t like our assumptions challenged. Critical thinking relies on objective evidence. We like the safety of our own subjectivity. Critical thinking requires investing time and effort. We like the fast and superficial — the net-net — of everything. We don’t really read, we skim, or we read the review; we live a Cliff’s Notes life.

    It’s difficult to find positives in this — difficult to be optimistic.

  4. rick says:

    If I could be any opposite of a person’s thinking, I would be astonished. I agree one thousand percent that the world is getting dumber. But it’s getting dumber by people continuing to vote for people unlike Traficant. People who worry about their polls and being afraid to stand up for the common man and frightened to speak what they think. Give me two paths, one to follow Nancy Pelosi and another to follow Jim Traficant. I think I would be in the majority to follow the path of Traficant.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Thanks, Rick. I guess there is the argument of “lesser of two evils,” criminal records notwithstanding. But there’s more to leadership that just speaking one’s mind. What you say has to make sense.

      • rick says:

        Thank you Bill. I guess we can agree to disagree. Politically speaking, I agree with pretty much every issue stand Traficant takes, maybe besides the Patriot Act. Mostly, I see a need to take care of America first and I think all these free trade agreements over the last 18 years or so has been at front with losing our manufacturing base and economic collapse in general. I believe this is due to the way our system works now and I believe 98% or more of the 535 members of Congress are bought and paid for by special interests with out having America’s best interest at heart. This gets to the heart of my support of Traficant. Say what you will about his eccentric rhetoric, or even what he went to prison for, but I believe these nefarious special interests will throw tens of millions to whomever Traficant runs against. I do appreciate your intelligent rebuttal to my opinion. Have a great weekend.

  5. David Murray says:

    Correction, Bill. That is not a “bad toupee.” It’s a “badly disguised muskrat.”

  6. Bill Sledzik says:

    You’ll love this.

    Just got in my campus mail a stack of fliers offering $25 gift certificates to students who’ll sit for the CLA, or College Learning Assessment. The cover letter says, “The CLA is a discipline-independent measure of an institution’s contributions to the development of key higher order competencies such as critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving and effective communication.” (That’s one smokin’ compound modifier, isn’t it?)

    Anyway, it’s great to see that someone in higher ed is actually trying to measure these higher levels of cognition (or lack there of them) in our graduating class. Bravo!

    The marketing strategy, on the other hand, is a little off target. The $25 gift certificate is only good at the university book store and only toward the purchase of a cap and gown for commencement. Wouldn’t it be more effective, and cheaper, to offer a bottle of Captain Morgan?

    Know your audience, folks. Know your audience.

  7. Bill Huey says:

    On the other hand, I read an AP story today that says Gordon Gee wants to do away with tenure at Ohio State, proving that there is intelligent life residing in Columbus. If there’s anyone who can move the tenure boulder out of the way of academic reform, it’s Gordon Gee.
    As for Jimbo, how can you not love an ex-pol, ex-con with such bad hair? He must be a man of the people.

    • Bill Sledzik says:


      Someone once told me, never trust a man with a bad toupee or a bow tie.

      Gordon Gee is a respected national leader in higher ed, and as I tweeted just this morning, he is dead nuts on about tenure: It’s an antiquated system. But I don’t think he endorsed getting rid of tenure, rather he called for expanding the criteria on which it is awarded. You know and I know, that’s a step toward getting rid of it, but guys in bow ties never push too hard. They’re mellow — and geeky.

      I have a foolproof plan to push tenure out of higher ed (seriously). But I’m only going to reveal it for a very high retainer fee — equal to my last 10 years of service and my early retirement.

  8. Bill Sledzik says:

    Still more evidence that the voting public is losing its ability to think things through. Note: The speaker earned $100,000 for the appearance.

  9. Whine, whine, whine. Your senator isn’t Jon Kyl. He has to say, “Read my lips” because nothing coming out of them makes any sense. Bayh quits. There’s no bipartisan in Washington now. It’s like I said, the USSR fell apart fighting in Afghanistan. Why can’t anyone but me see it’s doing the same thing to the USA?

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