November 16th, 2010

I think Lisa Murkowski is at least partly right

I think Lisa Murkowski is correct when she says that Sarah Palin isn’t big on “intellectual curiosity:”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowki told CBS News’ Katie Couric today that she would not support Sarah Palin for president because Palin lacks the …”intellectual curiosity” to craft great policy.

Of course, I’ve never seen a shred of evidence that Murkowski herself exhibits that trait. And wherever did she get the notion that intellectual curiosity is a necessary—or even a good—qualification for a president or for crafting policy?

And I say that as a person with a fair amount of intellectual curiosity myself. But I know it’s not synonymous with action, or good decision-making, and is rarely a needed qualification for holding office. In fact, it can be counter-productive.

What types of jobs require or are at least enhanced by intellectual curiosity? Professor or teacher, especially in the humanities and the sciences. Writer, perhaps. Inventor (although that’s not “intellectual” curiosity, necessarily; it’s curiosity about how things work in the real world, and how to make them work better). And those are about the only things I can come up with.

Not that intellectual curiosity’s bad, mind you. It can make for fun conversations, if you like that sort of thing. I happen to like that sort of thing, a lot. But your mileage may differ. And it’s hardly the only road to good conversations. I’d love to have a heart-to-heart with the un-intellectually curious Sarah Palin.

[NOTE: If you care to read more about the perils of intellectuals running things, read this from that superbly curious intellectual, Thomas Sowell.]

46 Responses to “I think Lisa Murkowski is at least partly right”

  1. Occam's Beard Says:

    I am so tired of this “intellectually curious” smear on Republicans generally.

    What are the signs of Obama’s intellectual curiosity? Is he studying Austrian? Is he working on extending his vocabulary to “corpsman?” Perhaps studying geography?

    Same thing with Kerry and Gore before him. Gore, despite pontificating about science and climate, thought that the temperature of the earth’s core was a million degrees. What’s an error of three orders of magnitude between the intellectually curious?

    The smear is exasperating because it is so nebulous. How does one assess intellectual curiosity? An Austrian monk (who doubtless spoke Austrian) growing pea plants probably seemed to be lacking intellectual curiosity too, as did a reclusive Amherst spinster.


  2. CV Says:

    Palin’s supposed lack of curiosity is part of the meme developed against her on the left. They bring it up a lot. I have heard Arianna Huffington say that Palin is “incurious” on more than one occasion.

    Remember when Palin was criticized for a lack of intellectual curiosity because she hadn’t travelled abroad as widely as say, that intellectual giant Barack Obama? It didn’t seem to occur to these geniuses that people sometimes make life choices that preclude world travel (such as footing the bill for education, having children, etc.) Doesn’t mean they aren’t “curious” about it.

  3. Tesh Says:

    Oh, it’s simple. She’s not interested in the same things that they, the self-anointed intellectual elite, are interested in. Or, more accurately, she doesn’t hold the same world views, so it’s self-evident that she doesn’t think the same way they do. Anything different must be inferior by definition.

  4. SteveH Says:

    Intellectual curiosity is apparently losing an election in landslide proportions and not being the least bit curious if any policies might be at fault.

    Sort of like your dog biting three different kids, which gets you to pondering what the hells wrong with your neighborhood.

  5. Don Says:

    They said the same about Bush.

    I recall Bush’s reading list one time included the book Salt, a history of salt that I may someday buy (using neo’s link to amazon, of course). IIRC, Bush’s reading list indicated much more intellectual curiosity than Clinton’s did.

    In reality, it is just a smear; an easy attack vile people use. It is hard to determine the truth of such a charge, and it is something the person of the receiving end can’t really defend against.

    As far as intellectual curiosity and leadership, I’d rate Washington as a better president than Jefferson, but from what I know Jefferson probably was more intellectually curious.

  6. expat Says:

    Most people have a limited amount of time to pursue their intellectual curiosity and rely on things like college review course info for much of their take on the world. My info on Buddhism is of this level, for instance. But when something like 9/11 happens, I want a president to scrounge up all sorts of info over Islam and Islamic cultures. I want someone with the ability to compare what he hears and reads with his own real life experience of how people tick. I want a priority list for that curiosity and I want the currently unimportant things to be left for occasional dinner conversation. It seems to me that lots of pundit and wannabees have trouble setting these priorities. They call themselves intellectually curious but don’t really go beyond learning the soundbites and clichees expected of their class.

  7. Don Janousek Says:

    I really don’t think Lisa the Political Whore is qualified to make comments involving any words beginning with “intell,” such as intellect, intellectual, intelligence, etc.

    OTOH, words beginning with “cr” should be right up her alley – crook, creep, crapola, crazy, etc.

  8. Occam's Beard Says:

    I want a president to scrounge up all sorts of info over Islam and Islamic cultures. I want someone with the ability to compare what he hears and reads with his own real life experience of how people tick.

    Well, we certainly got a President who’s knowledgeable as hell about Islam. They’ve got us there.

  9. Gringo Says:

    The brightest person in my high school class, certainly not an uncurious sort, is working in the ∅bama White House. [Bright but not arrogant, BTW.]

    I suppose when the train is set to collide head on with another one in 30 seconds, in spite of having been aware for tens of miles about the approaching train, and not having taken advantage in the interim of the remaining safe escapes onto a side track, one should be reassured about the IQ and intellectual curiosity of the conductor.

  10. Nolanimrod Says:

    I read somewhere that Bismarck said that if he really wanted to punish the people in a province he would set an intellectual to rule them.

  11. Gringo Says:

    conductor of the train= the one driving it. I was thinking of “Peron the great conductor.”

  12. Nolanimrod Says:

    Hey! Intellectual Curiosity be damned! Gravitas! We need more gravitas!

  13. SteveH Says:

    Intellectual curiosity= uncreative giftedness.

    Which explains the DMV closing on Tuesdays at 1:00pm, Fridays at 11:00am and at 2:30pm on the third Thursday of every month except in May, July and October.

  14. Curtis Says:

    I’ve only read 60 pages of her book, but it’s clear to me that Palin’s desire to be a journalist is a clear indication of intellectual curiosity.

    What is really stands out is the left’s lack of curiosity about Palin. They have no end of appetite for gossip and scandal, but of course, no true curiosity. But I don’t blame them for that. I have no curiosity about Obama. I have to force myself to study and find the facts about him.

    Curiosity is a function of devotion. A liberal values ideas above people, state above family, taxes above charity. From their point of view, yeah, she’s not that intellectually curious. But from her point of view as to family, nature, and people, I don’t think anyone would deny she’s quite curious indeed.

  15. Richard Aubrey Says:

    What, exactly, is “intellectual curiosity”? How does it vary from simple curiosity?
    Curiosity implies non-relevance to the moment. IOW, if something is really getting serious right now, learning more about it is not considered “curiosity”.
    So, “intellectual curiosity” must mean something like wondering about stuff of no particular use at the moment, but it’s DEEP, man.

  16. Baklava Says:

    She lacked intellectually curious so much that she stands UP against quantitative easing and death panels and FOR capital gains tax rate cuts and corporate tax rate cuts.

    It’s all due to her lack of intellectual curiosity .


    Honestly – she can never satisfy negative judgmental idiots with no open mind towards looking at the solutions.

    The 2010 election was about solutions versus problems. People chose more problems.

  17. LAG Says:


    Murkowski’s objection reminds me of a concept in business and military planning called the Boyd cycle that tries to capture the nature of the decision-making process. It’s also known as the OODA loop (observe-orient-decide-act).

    It’s important to understand that being able to complete the loop faster than an opponent (with appropriate accuracy at each step) will place you in a position of advantage.

    Ideally, presidents (and other leaders) need to be able to cycle through all steps as quickly as they can when making decisions of national importance, and this gets to Lisa M’s objection.

    Intellectual curiosity for its own sake is fine if you are in a position to ignore the OODA loop. Presidents don’t fall into this category, and too much intellectual curiosity in a decision-maker can be as deadly as too little.

    Overly intellectual leaders exhibit the flaw in their nature of being too drawn to the observe and orient steps, with the danger that decisions and actions will be delayed or avoided entirely.

    Bush Inc. may have not observed and oriented sufficiently prior to deciding. Perhaps he was insufficiently intellectual, or perhaps he was simply disposed to move too quickly to the decision phase.

    Obama Inc., on the other hand, seems to have a tendency to spend more time observing and to delay decisions. (The Inc. tries to capture the corporate nature of this process in these instances.)

    I think Murkowski’s comment is designed to paint Palin as stupid or ignorant, which I don’t believe, but the real danger is that a President Palin will get caught up on a step or skip steps. Bad things follow in either case.

  18. Oldflyer Says:

    The notoriously non-intellectual, and un-curious George W. Bush, decided to write a book. Unlike Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and nearly every other celebrity writer, he was curious as to how predecessors approached the task. So, he sat down and read the memoirs of other Presidents to compare the styles, and the result. He decided that U. S. Grant’s memoir was the most effective presentation. So, he adapted his style. Even Bush’s critics admit that his book is unique among recent memoirs, and the style is most effective.

    I understand that he read a good many books on the decision-making processes of effective leaders in order to understand that responsibility. So, does due diligence qualify as intellectual curiosity? In some circles it would be labeled “mundane”.

    Murkowski also said she did not think Sarah Palin enjoyed governing. I honestly doubt that Palin has ever done anything she didn’t enjoy. She is a joyful person. Murkowski probably would not recognize that attribute if it bit her on the —toe.

  19. Oldflyer Says:

    LAG, your points are interesting. But, I do think you misrepresent Bush’s decision process.

    If you read his book, substantiated by those of others around him, there was nothing precipitous about his decision making. Iraq, for instance. Folks tend to speed up time in retrospect. Actually, there was a rather deliberate out scenario leading to his decision to invade. (While he took more time than some acknowledge, you also can’t ignore that substantial history had accumulated before he took office.)

  20. Baklava Says:


  21. Curtis Says:

    Once again the Princess Bride to the rescue. Reading LAG’s blog and particularly the part starting, “Overly intellectual leaders . . . ” made me think of Mr. “Inconceivable.” In Obama’s case change the word to “unexpectedly.”

  22. Timothy Says:

    I really can’t believe in Palin, that woman seems to be a phony to me. Merkowski was right, Palin made a lot of really absolutely stupid ‘endorsements’ that I would say objectively LOST the republicans the Senate.

    Merkowski beat a Palin endorsee as write-in candidate, in Palin’s homestate, and we’re supposed to accept her as a serious political candidate? She has NO idea what she’s doing when it comes to Politics, she stumbles around stupidly.

  23. Occam's Beard Says:

    She has NO idea what she’s doing when it comes to Politics, she stumbles around stupidly.

    So the Reds are worried over nothing?

    Then they should just relax about her. Somehow, however, they don’t seem relaxed.

  24. Baklava Says:


    Palin endorsed a lot of candidates and many of them long shots…

    But guess what her odds were?


    Sorry – but you lose that argument.

    You have no idea what you are doing as a commenter. 😉

  25. Occam's Beard Says:

    Sure he does. He’s a concern troll.

    One who, btw, will doubtless decline to comment on Buraq’s batting average re endorsements. What’s that running now, .000?

  26. Occam's Beard Says:

    Bring back Brad. I disagreed with him on some things, but at least he had something intelligent to say, and some substantiation for his position. That’s worth a lot.

  27. Baklava Says:

    he he

  28. Gringo Says:

    So, he sat down and read the memoirs of other Presidents to compare the styles, and the result. He decided that U. S. Grant’s memoir was the most effective presentation.

    Grant’s memoir is highly rated. You can buy it now at Amazon in Kindle editions for nothing or next to nothing.

  29. JohnC Says:

    I don’t know about intellectual curiosity. Isn’t that something most of us have even if it’s not always apparent? Is it a value? Is it a mark of something good? Maybe, maybe not. I do know this, however, because it’s been demonstrated empirically many times: Palin is essentially honest and has good political instincts where the two wenches (Couric and Murkowski) are essentially conniving and have self-serving instincts. But, I bet C & M are pointedly intellectually curious about each others’ ‘intellectual’ prowess, teeth, and hair.

  30. Paul Says:

    neo said: Inventor (although that’s not “intellectual” curiosity, necessarily; it’s curiosity about how things work in the real world, and how to make them work better).

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. Time to read C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures, and understand how the word intellectual has been hijacked. He eviscerates “intellectuals” as ignorant Luddites.

    I think Lyndon Johnson once said something to the effect of: I can talk to businessmen, I can talk to the military, I can talk to scientists, but I can’t talk to intellectuals.

  31. Occam's Beard Says:

    The term “intellectual” no longer refers to those who make their living through their minds, as opposed to their hands, but now refers to people who can make arcane allusions to obscure literature.

    By this standard, scientists do not qualify, nor in my experience are they considered to qualify, by those in the arts. Most scientists have not read extensively in literature or philosophy. On the other hand, most arts types are hopeless at operating anything more involved than a Coke machine.

    I once had to help an arts don connect speakers to his stereo. True story. That “red to red, black to black” stuff is tough.

  32. Tom Says:

    Richard Aubrey:
    Thank you. I also don’t know what “Intellectual curiosity” is either. I’m congenitallly curious about how things work. But that may not be “intellectual”, even if the curiosity is about (e.g.) mitochondria. Maybe I’m just stoopid.

  33. JKB Says:

    Murkowski also said she did not think Sarah Palin enjoyed governing.

    A fine trait is to not enjoy governing but enjoy doing for others. Palin demonstrated this with her priorities as governor. Obama’s problem is, he doesn’t enjoy governing because he thinks he should rule. Or at least not be bothered with the unwashed masses.

    Now being intellectually curious is a good thing but not if it inhibits decision making. I was watching Palin’s show. The part where they were weathered out on the initial attempt at the hike was telling in how she drove home that only the fool ignores reality when the forces are working against them. Often to their demise.

  34. LAG Says:

    Oldflyer, I didn’t make clear that my example for Bush was adopted from the common run of commentary offered by his critics. Same with Obama. Personally I’m happy with many of Bush’s decisions and a few of Obama’s. For example, I’m glad Saddam and his boys are dead. I’m glad Petraeus is in charge in Afghanistan. Domestic-not so much for either of them.

    And the process isn’t that simple anyway. As I tried to indicate with the “Inc” notation, decision-making at that level is a dynamic knowledge-limited complex process (Enough modifiers?) that does not fall entirely under the purview of any one person.

  35. DerHahn Says:

    I see somebody who wasn’t intelluctually curious enough to figure out how to spell Murkowski correctly.

  36. kolnai Says:

    This is an interesting topic, and I tend to agree with those who say that “intellectual curiosity” is overrated.

    As with most such discussions, a lot hinges on how one defines the terms. For example, I’m not sure that getting into the nitty-gritty of every single policy issue is a sign of “intellectual curiosity,” but a lot of these people who chide Palin for lack of same mean something like that.

    Personally, I hate to say it, but there is a certain lack of discipline and lack of what another commenter called “gravitas” about Palin that makes me uneasy. And let me hasten to add that I would happily have her as President instead of Obama, or for that matter any Democrat. This isn’t, in other words, something I say to pick on her or to justify switching teams like some idiotic so-called conservatives did in 2008.

    Let me put it like this. I think conservatism needs a spokesman (or woman) to get the policy right and to articulate the philosophical message in a way that will hit home beyond the base.

    I have no doubts that Palin would get the policy right, more or less. And yes, she has shown some fine rhetorical chops on occasion, with the “death panel” stuff and so on. My concern is that the “worldview” aspect, or what Bush I, if I recall correctly, called “that vision thing” – articulating that in a way that explodes liberal shibboleths clearly and concisely, just doesn’t seem to be Palin’s forte.

    Her focus on the MSM, for instance, while true in almost every detail, risks getting a little pathological. She can start to seem thin-skinned, and her priorities somewhat out-of-focus. And she does on occasion play the victim card, which is nice as a tu quoque thing against leftist feminism, but conservatism ultimately can’t be associated with that stuff. We simply need to be careful about “going there,” and I’m not sure yet Palin has the discipline to do so in the most effective and limited way.

    So I suppose my worry about her could be called a worry about some lack of “intellectual curiosity” she may have. I wouldn’t put it like that, but my idea was always that if she read a little more – got familiar with Chambers and Buckley et al. – and learned how to aim her arrows at the bullseye of leftism, instead of picking off policies as they arise, duck-hunt style, she would be a much more effective voice for what the country needs right now.

    And at this point, all I can say is I am much more comfortable going all-in for Rubio, West, Christie, and Ryan.

    But again, that does not mean I would not vote for her and feel damn good about it. I just think, at this point, to put it a little cheekily, she’s not “the One” to drive a conservative stake through leftism’s heart.

    I really do hope I’m wrong about that, and time will tell.

    Yet, to return to the topic at hand, does all of this mean that in the end my reservations about Palin are rooted in a sense that she lacks “intellectual curiosity”?

  37. kolnai Says:

    P.S. – and you all know I’m not a concern troll.

  38. Gary Rosen Says:

    kolnai, can you read this and still say Palin is lacking in “gravitas”? I appreciate the criticisms of Palin, but *all* the prospective candidates of both parties have shortcomings. She would not be running against Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. I believe that even many people who are sympathetically inclined towards her have been swayed by the savage media attacks on her without realizing it.

  39. kolnai Says:

    Gary Rosen – With respect, those were prepared remarks, and I’ve not seen her ability yet to extemporaneously emit such (excellent) reasoning in a debate or to the press.

    Again, I think I need to emphasize that I’m not doubting that other candidates have drawbacks, or that Palin has the potential to prevail in a primary or a general election. Intramural discussions about Palin tend to get sidetracked and, while one could grant that perhaps people like me have been tacitly swayed by her demonization in the media (though to the best of my introspection, I don’t think I have), there is also a tendency on the part of Palin’s most zealous backers to paint people like me, who have legitimate quibbles, as all of a piece with Kathleen Parker.

    We’re on the same side here. Like I said, if Palin was the Republican nominee, I would vote for her in a heartbeat and feel no remorse. My concerns about her are strictly from a concern to see conservatism put leftism as much out of business as possible. I don’t think Palin would be a bad President, nor do I think that even if she were that a Democrat would be preferable.

    Just make sure we understand what I am saying and what I’m not saying. Even though the media has acted disgracefully with respect to her very being, Palin has been only inconsistently excellent in public.

    I want to see her say what she said in the NRO piece on TV, in a debate, with composure and command. I have seen Paul Ryan do that. I have seen Chris Christie do that. I have seen Marco Rubio and Allen West do that. I’m sorry, but I can’t say that I’ve seen what I haven’t, and I haven’t seen Palin do what I’m describing.

    I trust I do not have to qualify this every time I say it now. No, I’m not saying she’s stupid. No, I’m not saying she is an unacceptable candidate. No, I’m not saying I wouldn’t vote for her.

    All I am saying is that it really behooves conservatives to get 2012 right, and I’m not convinced yet that we know that “Palin” is the answer as to how to do that.

    Can we at least agree that I am not Kathleen Parker by saying that, and that even if you disagree, my concerns are not irrational or a product of animosity?

    I’m sure at least SOME people who comment here would share at least SOME of my reservations.

    Honestly, if neo took a poll and asked us regular and irregular commenters who we would support in a hypothetical primary between, say, Christie, Palin, and Rubio, who would win?

    I don’t know, but even excepting myself, I think Palin wouldn’t get 100% of the vote. And those who voted for, say, Christie (as I probably would), wouldn’t by that fact be Palin haters or have any truck with the media’s insane caricature of her.

    Just remember – as much as soft or hard Palin-skeptics need to remain open to the possibility that she may shape up to be the best choice in 2012, the Palin-devotees need to be open to the possibility that she may not be.

    Not unreasonable, right?

  40. Pat Dooley Says:

    I’m amazed at how little Palin’s critics actually know about her career and accomplishments. They also seem to forget all the op-eds and articles she has written over the years. Here are a few:

    Bearing Up

    The ‘Cap And Tax’ Dead End

    Obama and the Bureaucratization of Health Care

    Israeli Flotilla: Don’t Take Mainstream Media Coverage at Face Value

    Needed: A Reset with Israel

  41. Baklava Says:




    People we chose a teleprompter of the united states !

    Her ideas expressed during her debate with Joe Biden WERE FAR SUPERIOR PEOPLE !!!!

    She had the economic prescription as opposed to Joe Biden’s economic virus….

  42. Curtis Says:

    Palin presents unfamiliarity. She doesn’t think or talk like a politician. This provides an unknown factor, the “I don’t know, there’s just something I don’t like.”

    For the Palin-devotees, this is precisely her appeal.

  43. Curtis Says:

    The amount of fear and loathing Palin generates also says something. For me it says she’s on the right track.

    And yes, Palin does not have the command performance ability of a Christie or Rubio. So much the better. Rhetoric is for mobs.

    But the point is well made, Kolnai: Fellow conservatives do well to prevent a cult of personality from developing.

  44. neo-neocon Says:

    kolnai: I have the same reservations as you. I believe I expressed them (although perhaps not as well as you!) in a previous post. I forget which one, and don’t have the time to search for it now.

    I would vote for her, but I think her negatives are high, and among those negatives are exactly those points you make. I have always deplored the attacks on her. I think she is intelligent. I actually think she would do fine in the presidency; I think she has a lot of horse sense. But she sounds scattered and ditzy, and that makes people very wary of her. Not to mention, of course, the lies spread about her.

  45. Baklava Says:


  46. Curtis Says:

    Actually, fellow conservatives aren’t going to be able to prevent the cult of personality developing. It has already happened. Fellow conservatives at Sarah’s level would do well to advise her to not let it give her a big head.

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