Wednesday, October 05, 2011


Shikha Dalmia discusses the ongoing battle between the intellectual "elite" and the common folk...
The most depressing spectacle on the political landscape right now (besides a potential second term for Barack Obama) is the party of Lincoln entertaining the presidential ambitions of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann—women with better hairdos than heads. One needn’t be a GOP-hater like Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd to be dismayed by the growing anti-intellectualism of the party. Even David Brooks, a conservative commentator, has observed that Republican disdain for liberal intellectuals has morphed into a disdain for all intellectuals.

But modern intellectuals, having abandoned honest inquiry for unabashed activism, must themselves bear some blame for the backlash.

The GOP’s descent into mindlessness began when the gaffe-prone Dan Quayle prodded a sixth-grader to misspell “potatoe.” The more the media lampooned Quayle, the more Republicans circled the wagons around him. Since then, Republican intellectual defensiveness has hardened into intellectual goofiness.

...But the bigger reason for this anti-intellectual animus is that every time really smart people run the country, things go spectacularly wrong. 
...The prize for discrediting intelligence, however, goes to President Obama. Unlike Bush, he wore his intellect on his sleeve, raising hopes that he could fix the country with sheer brainpower. But he has presided over a deterioration on every front: Deficits are worse, unemployment is higher, a double dip is imminent, and we have added another foreign misadventure.
So why do intelligent people consistently make such a hash of things? Because they are smart enough to talk themselves into anything. Ordinary mortals don’t engage in fancy mental gymnastics to reach conclusions that defy common sense.
There's a couple problems with Dalmia's formulation as it relates to the GOP's disdain for the intellectual elite.  First, I don't think it's fair to lampoon either Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann as dumb.  You could make the case that neither should be entrusted with the position of President of the United States, but I watched the Democratic Party nominate Kerry and Edwards in 2004, men whose hairdos really were far better than anything inside their heads.  Edwards was still a contender in 2008, and you'd have trouble convincing me that he is substantially more intelligent than either Palin or Bachmann.  And yet I never get to hear how Democrats' decision to embrace a smooth-talking huckster like Edwards demonstrates their contempt for intellectualism.

Moreover, I don't think the GOP has disdain for all intellectual elites any more than Democrats do -- they just have a disdain for elites who disagree with them and mock them as stupid for doing so.  The left has its blind spots on things that should be settled science.  The same people who regularly admonish the GOP for ignoring the allegedly settled science on global warming still believe that raising the minimum wage doesn't have a deleterious effect on low-income workers.

But Dalmia does hit upon a key point here -- that the biggest problem the intellectual elites have is their contempt for the common man.  As the article notes, Obama spent time selectively citing CBO figures for support for his ludicrous assertion that a massive expansion of availability and utilization of health care benefits would lead to lower costs, when most Americans looked at that claim and rightly called bullshit.  The elites want to trick the common man into agreeing with them, because they think they can fool them. That's not a good way to get them on your side.  And being right about a problem (say, global warming) does not mean that you're right about the solution -- and common folks will rightly view with suspicion elites who claim that carbon emissions are a crisis issue when the same elites fly all over the world on private jets to discuss the all-important issue.

You don't need to go to an Ivy League school to get a good education, and you don't need a degree from those places to prove your arguments are worthy of serious consideration.  Start with that, and the elites may get the respect they allegedly want.

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