Friday, October 10, 2008

Brain Freeze














David Brooks has a fascinating piece in today’s New York Times. Titled “The Class War Before Palin,” the columnist attempts to give a bird’s eye, snapshot view of how conservatism came to be so anti-intellectual.

It wasn’t always thus. Modern conservatism, Brooks contends, began as a movement of dissident intellectuals. The urbane and sophisticated William F. Buckley, hardly an intellectual slouch by anyone’s definition, was once conservatism’s cerebral standard bearer.

“Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking,” says Brooks. “Now those attributes bow down before the common touch.”

Brooks believes that conservatives, driven by a need to engage elite opinion, tried to build an intellectual counter-establishment. “They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind.”

However, Brooks reports, over the past several decades, the Republican Party has driven away the highly educated and those people who live in cities or along the coasts. This was due in large part to the fact that “Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare.” As Democrats nominated “coastal pointy-heads,” Republicans swung equally as far in the opposite direction to find their representatives.

Remember the Republican convention just a month and a half ago? Giuliani, the former mayor of the most cosmopolitan city in the world, repeatedly disdained cosmopolitans.
Mitt Romney, of all people, gave a speech attacking “rich eastern elites.” If that isn’t the most obvious case of the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is.

And then came Sarah Palin. Though “smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable,” Palin has made playing the class-warfare card her daily mantra. Sarah Palin has out-Bushed Bush. She can’t make a speech without drawing a line between the heartland and the “oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.” She celebrates ignorance and has made being inexperienced a cause célèbre.

The ramifications are becoming increasingly clear — entire alienated sections of the country from Silicon Valley to the Northeast Corridor have migrated to the Democrats. Elite professions from lawyers to doctors and now even bankers have walked away from the Republican Party.

“What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole,” Brooks says. It’s a delineation obvious to anyone. It is “Joe Sixpack” versus the “East Coast liberal elites.” Since Democratic leaders prized deliberation and self-examination, Republicans decided to “govern from the gut.”

Intellectualism is now something to be mocked and distrusted. Elite, meaning someone who is at the paradigm of their chosen profession or pursuit, is now been transformed into a smear word. Worse, the heartland has bought into it. The more education you achieve, the more many conservatives look upon you with suspicion. Pursuing such education for themselves is largely out of the question.

“Conservatives are as rare in elite universities and the mainstream media as they were 30 years ago,” says Brooks. “The smartest young Americans are now educated in an overwhelmingly liberal environment.” It has long been shown that the more educated one is, the more liberal one is. Is this because there are so few conservative voices in American universities or simply that education leads one to the conclusion that the liberal mindset is vastly superior?

Modern conservatives has chosen a strategy with a built-in self destruct mechanism. Sure, this tactic will work for a few decades, a generation or two perhaps. It may even garner millions of votes. But it won’t be long until it starts breaking down, before it is seen as the straw man that it is, before the movement becomes so dumbed-down that it loses any and all semblance of power much less academic rigor. And when that happens, conservatives will have unwittingly set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy — a class-segregated society with the most educated and therefore most wealthy on the top and the mass of poorer, less educated relegated to the bottom.

In that scenario, everyone loses.

5 Comments:

Blogger Justin said...

Thanks for the reflection. I know a few solid GOP types who are voting Democrat because of SP.

But it won’t be long until it starts breaking down, before it is seen as the straw man that it is, before the movement becomes so dumbed-down that it loses any and all semblance of power much less academic rigor.

But don't these movements have a pendulum effect? They are rarely linear, right? Political parties have too much to lose to maintain a trajectory to their own demise.

I don't pretend to understand the psychology of movements, but I offer this as a reflection.

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Delahunt (POD) said...

It is a bit frustrating when both major candidates are espousing these massive government bailouts, pandering to the American voter, and resorting to populism to drum up support.

I have to reluctantly admit that McCain has made some blunders in the past few days, and Obama has done well coasting his way through this mess of an economy that we have - created in part by too much government intervention on Wall Street, as well as the cause and effect of that intervention.

The problem with McCain is that he is not offering himself as the viable alternative to Obama by backing the massive goverment bailouts, especially bailouts that have tens of billions of wasteful earmarks. The conservative base of the Republican party (God bless 'em) gave McCain the perfect opportunity to run on the conservative mantle - and that is what is most disappointing to me now.

What America needs now is more conservatism not less. It just saddens me to see America turn into a welfare nation, that eschews individualism and expects the government to bail anyone out when a crisis occurs, instead of letting the market correct itself naturally.

I am not using talking points - there have been recent events in my life, proving to myself that living a life based upon conservate principles works beyond a person's wildest imagination if they only put these principles in practice. It is living a conservative life that has disproven to me the folley of modern American liberalism of the last 40 years, which I consider to be the most spineless and anti-intellectual pursuit that anyone can partake, despite good intention. Liberalism fostered and created the class warfare, through it's "Great Society" programs of the 1960s. And I think it is debatable that America is a better place because of it.

I say this with the deepest respect to anyone who may think otherwise: America needs less goverment, not more. That is absolutely the opposite of what is considered "anti-intellectual." People need to read more Fredrick Hayek, and less People magazine. And these people DO include Barak Obama, Joe Biden, and I am afraid to say, John McCain. But it's not too late for him to change. It might not sway the outcome of an election, but it will give conservatives, like myself the faith to believe in the future of America and the Republican party.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Grinth said...

"The problem with McCain is that he is not offering himself as the viable alternative to Obama by backing the massive goverment bailouts, especially bailouts that have tens of billions of wasteful earmarks. The conservative base of the Republican party (God bless 'em) gave McCain the perfect opportunity to run on the conservative mantle - and that is what is most disappointing to me now.

What America needs now is more conservatism not less. It just saddens me to see America turn into a welfare nation, that eschews individualism and expects the government to bail anyone out when a crisis occurs, instead of letting the market correct itself naturally."

You do realize that everything you just described IS conservatism? The same conservatism that has been the predominate ideology in government, no matter the party affiliation of the president, for almost 40 years. I think 40 years is more than enough time to try and see if conservative ideology works or not and these last eight years are the exclamation mark on the answer: No.

Perhaps the most masterful sleight of hand the Republican party has pulled off is convincing its voter base that the party's definition of conservatism and citizens' definition of conservatism are one and the same.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Reacher said...

There are many who agree that what we need is more conservatism, not less. That's why some of them are endorsing Obama.

Notably, Wick Ellison, editor of D Magazine and former editor of the National Review, has endorsed Obama for just that reason.

In his editorial, "A Conservative for Obama," with echoes of Brooks he says,

"Barack Obama is not my ideal candidate for president. (In fact, I made the maximum donation to John McCain during the primaries, when there was still hope he might come to his senses.) But I now see that Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history. I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers."

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Matthew Delahunt (POD) said...

I don't know what's more difficult this year... being a conservative, or being a New England Patriots fan.

3:39 AM  

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