"Profiles in Ignorance" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Former “Harvard Lampoon” president and current “New Yorker” contributor Andy Borowitz has written a jibe-filled, but well-documented, report on the ignorance exhibited by many of the United States' leading politicians during the course of the past 50 years.
The satirist argues that over the past half-century American politicians have grown increasingly allergic to knowledge, and mass media have encouraged the election of “dumb and dumber” officials by elevating candidates who are better at performing than thinking. In a veiled way, he also indicts voters for not closely examining the qualifications of the candidates who vie for powerful leadership positions.
Borowitz organizes his satirical laments into three stages of U.S. history: Ridicule, Acceptance, and Celebration. The Ridicule stage occurred in the 1970s and ‘80s when Reagan and Quayle, among other politicians, appalled Americans with their ignorance. The author quotes humorist Molly Ivins who blames Reagan for showing “that ignorance is no handicap to the presidency.”
Acceptance, the second stage of lamentable behavior by public figures took place during the 1990s and 2000s. It was evidenced by George W. Bush’s gaffes, Sarah Palin’s confession that she did not know Africa was a continent, and Clinton’s effort to tone down perceptions of his braininess by doing impersonations of Elvis.
The Celebration stage is composed of the current highly educated politicians who deliberately mask their intelligence in an effort to turn “ignorance from a liability into a virtue.” Missouri's Josh Hawley, a Stanford and Yale graduate, is included in this group along with many others in Congress, but his most quoted target is the MBA graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Donald Trump who once said American patriots “took over the airports during the Revolutionary War.”
“Profiles in Ignorance” is a sarcastic but serious examination of the deterioration of American politics. It is meant to make us laugh at the poorly read, ill-equipped officials who make no attempt to understand the responsibilities and overall scope of their public office. It also is written to make us cry at the predicaments created by this ignorance and the cataclysmic problems their lack of knowledge has created.
Borowitz ends his wry critique with some cause for optimism. His stinging satire ends with a reminder that history does not move in a straight line, and the course of history can be changed if we act now. His plan to end the “Age of Ignorance” is a call to citizens to get involved in local politics, attend local government meetings, and make well-informed voting decisions. Putting his walk and talk together, he recently joined a New Hampshire library board to thwart a local effort to ban books.
Those who like Borowitz’s satiric skewering of politicians will not be able to put down this book. Others might find it elitist, offensive and boorish.
About the Author: Satirist Andy Borowitz is a writer and performer who graduated from Harvard College in 1980 where he had been president of the “Harvard Lampoon.” In 2001 he created “The Borowitz Report” a satirical news column which “The New Yorker” began publishing in 2012. He played in sold-out venues during his national standup comedy tour, “Make America Not Embarrassing Again.” Borowitz is the first and only winner of the National Press Club Humor Award.