The Idiotization Of The American Right

In May of 2008 I wrote a manifesto for aspiring politicians and those who would seek to be leaders in America. It isn’t as easy as it may seem. Amongst the not particularly obvious parcels of advice was this admonition on education:

Education is a key component in this new paradigm. It is absolutely critical that you not have too much of it. And never, ever use the word paradigm. Once the American people get the impression that you know more than they do about issues like economics or foreign policy, you’re disqualified from service. Achievement and expertise only spotlight how different you are from ordinary Americans.

An article today in the New Yorker highlighted a segment of this tendency toward doltishness. It’s an interesting read on the long-standing tenets of what is currently called the Tea Party, but which has its roots in extremist anti-communists and Birchers from the 1950’s and before:

“The political universe is, of course, very different today from what it was during the Cold War. Yet the Birchers’ politics and their view of American history – which focussed more on totalitarian threats at home than on those posed by the Soviet Union and Communist China – has proved remarkably persistent. The pressing historical question is how extremist ideas held at bay for decades inside the Republican Party have exploded anew – and why, this time, Party leaders have done virtually nothing to challenge those ideas, and a great deal to abet them.”

The reason party leaders are embracing these old-school red-baiters is because they see short term electoral gains by doing so. But they are ignoring the greater risk of encouraging people to reject traditional measures of leadership and the skills required for effective public administration.

Today it remains politically necessary to align yourself closely with an electorate that you regard as morons. If you have a degree from a reputable academic institution you might as well look for a vocation other than public service. When it comes to political office in America, Harvard and Yale graduates need not apply. This point was made movingly by Anne Applebaum, a conservative writer whose work has been featured in the National Review. She said in part…

“Despite pushing aside the old WASP establishment … these modern meritocrats are clearly not admired, or at least not for their upward mobility, by many Americans. On the contrary … they are resented as ‘elitist.’ Which is at some level strange: To study hard, to do well, to improve yourself — isn’t that the American dream?”

Apparently not. Especially to Dark Ageists like Jonah Goldberg who harbors an overt preference for stupidity, as evidenced in his books. Goldberg is also with the National Review, as well as a Fox News contributor. In his column at NRO he disputes Apllebaum’s proposition with a typically shallow argument that avoids the substance of her article. He attempts to defend the disparagement of “elitists” (i.e. smart people) by separating them into two classes: those he agrees with and those he contends are “bossing the country around.” He accuses Applebaum of spiraling off into a “wacky celebration of higher education.”

What a nutcase Applebaum must be for celebrating higher education. She is clearly out of touch with average Americans who don’t hold advanced degrees from Ivy League schools, as does Applebaum, a summa cum laude graduate of Yale (Golberg attended something called Goucher College). Goldberg goes on to complain that…

“…it’s only one subset of Ivy Leaguers that seems to bother anybody on the right: the lawyer-social engineers-journalist-activists they churn out by the boatload. No one begrudges kids who’ve made good from tough backgrounds. What bothers lots of Americans is when those kids then think they are entitled to cajole, nudge, command and denigrate the rest of America. To date, I’ve seen not one instance of Tea Partiers denouncing engineers, physicists, cardiologists, accountants, biologist, archeologists or a thousand other professions who’ve emerged from elite schools. Because those people aren’t bossing anybody around.”

First of all, we need to note that Goldberg’s allusion to cajoling, nudging, and bossing people around, would likely be regarded as leadership by coherent and thoughtful persons. I’m not sure how you could take charge of a situation, persuade skeptics, and implement solutions, without someone like Goldberg accusing you of being dictatorial. The brainiacs he knows must be wallflowers who keep their opinions to themselves.

However, the big lie in his comments is his enumeration of academic achievers whom he says that Tea Partiers have never denounced: Engineers, like those who develop green technologies and alternative fuels? Cardiologists and biologists, like those who advocate for stem cell research? Accountants, like those who recognize that building the middle class is a better path to prosperity than trickling-down? Physicists, like those who know that the universe is billions of years old and not 6,000? Biologists and archeologists, like those who regard evolution as science and creationism as religion?

It is startling that Goldberg can seriously assert that he has not seen “one instance of Tea Partiers denouncing” folks like these when they are frequently and fiercely castigated by Tea Partiers, Republicans, conservatives, and other adherents to the brand of Neo-Neanderthalism that he practices. The only way that someone could not have seen that is if he were willfully blind or acutely ignorant.

On second thought, Goldberg’s assertions aren’t that startling after all. But they are representative of a mindset that cherishes ignorance and devalues intelligence, insight, and achievement. He is the poster child for the New Idiocy that the American right has embraced. He is emblematic of the Tea Party syndrome wherein they holler at high decibels about the Constitutional rights they are certain they are losing, but can’t name a single one, or how it’s been lost. These are the same people who go batty over the President’s citizenship even after seeing his birth certificate. These are people who think that fascism and socialism are the same thing. These are people who believe whatever Glenn Beck tells them to believe. These are the people of whom H.L. Mencken spoke when he said:

“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

That’s a milestone we already reached with the last administration. And now that we have an actual Harvard educated president, the Tea Baggers are pining for the days when they had leaders who were more like them (i.e. stupid people).