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Politics & Current Affairs

What Happened to the Conservative Intellectual?

The GOP has a long tradition by which its most educated members criticize the “intellectual elite.” But the conservative brain trust seems to have run dry, with criticism approaching caricature. 

What’s the Latest Development?

When a Harvard professor of constitutional law occupies the White House, perhaps attacks on intellectuals are to be expected from the opposing political party. But there is also a Republican tendency to defame their most learnèd opponents. “To their suspicion of economic analyses of social issues, American conservatives add a suspicion of intellectuals as elitists.” Rick Santorum, who has three advanced degrees himself, called the President “a snob” for wanting every American to attend university. Mitt Romney, who has two degrees from Harvard and has sent three of his sons there, has accused the President of spending too much time in such academic circles. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The conservative intellectual tradition, which existed from Edmund Burke to William F. Buckley Jr. seems to have run dry. Is Bill Kristol, who argued in favor of Sarah Palin’s nomination as the 2008 vice-president, the GOP’s current brain trust? It seems incredible that most Republican candidates for president this year denied the veracity of evolution and increasingly distrust science. “As the world becomes more threatening, many people seek simple answers, and many Americans conclude that an elite—from which they are excluded—must be the source of the ills. … In their flight from elitism, they end up in a populist swamp peopled by autodidacts and fundamentalists.”

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