Conservatism And Anti-Intellectualism

Ken AshfordRepublicansLeave a Comment

I have been only marginally following the debate between Matt Yglesius and The Corner Kids.  Tom Hilton summarizes:

Our story so far: Jeffrey Hart writes a piece in the Wall Street Journal about the state of modern conservatism (short version: Burke good, DeLay bad–hard to argue with that) in which he makes this observation:

The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of "Republicanism." The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture.

This cheeses off the Cornerites, who call it regional prejudice but are really upset because they think Hart is saying they aren’t innelekshuls.

Matt Yglesias (the one who writes for Tapped, not the other two) defends Hart’s regionalist observation, then goes on to say

this is clearly entangled with the rise of a kind of populist anti-intellectualism as an increasingly prominent strain of American conservatism and that, in turn, is a non-trivial break with the past, albeit a break that’s been useful to conservatism’s electoral success.

Matt is clearly right in my view, although — as Hilton notes — the conservative populist anti-intellectualism movement has been around for a long time.  And I honestly cannot get my head around it.   I don’t care what your political persuasion is — do you really want a President who is not among the best and brightest that your party can offer? 

Why do people want a President who is nothing more than an amiable Joe Schmoes who they can go out an have a beer with?  Is being folksy and "one of the guys" an important part of the skill set needed to be leader of the free world (not to mention, as conservatives often do, the Commander-in-Chief)?

You know what happens when we have a "nice guy" as President, who surrounds himself with yes-men who are equally contemptuous of government and education?  We get an inept government.  We get Katrina-like responses.  We get people who disdain and thwart uniquely American concepts like "checks and balances".  We get deficit spending.  As Hilton notes:

For more than 50 years the Republicans have campaigned on anti-intellectualism, courting the massive bloc of voters too insecure to want a president any smarter than they are.

True, and we all pay for it.