More Than Politics

I have another thought on the matter of lefties in the academy. It has to do with this one sentence of Timothy Burke’s that Erin O’Connor quoted:

The tripwires here aren’t generally as obvious as saying, “I voted for Bush”-though Brooks is completely correct in thinking that this would possibly be one of the three or four most disastrous things an aspiring humanities scholar could say during an on-campus interview.

What’s interesting about that is that it’s no doubt true enough, but there is more than one reason for it, more than one kind of reason. At least I assume so, extrapolating from my own opinion on the matter. In fact, the other reason (the reason other than the one implied by the context, which is the political one) bears out precisely the point that Burke and O’Connor are making. The other reason has to do with those less parochial, less narrowly political ideas and commitments that one expects intellectuals to have. The other reason for being repelled to hear that an aspiring humanities scholar voted for Bush is the fact that the man, his many explicit remarks on the subject, his considering himself qualified to run for the presidency, and the support for him, are all profoundly anti-intellectual. Any humanities scholar worth her salt ought to be hostile to Bush, and I would still say that if he were to the left of McGovern. All the sneering at Gore for knowing something and expecting the voters to care about substance, all the drivel about likability, all the brazen nonsense about what a reg’lar guy Bush is despite having everything handed to him by way of birth and money, simply because he never reads and mispronounces words and doesn’t know much – all those are glaring signs that what humanities scholars do and value, and what they think is valuable for other people, is considered elitist and often downright wicked by too many Republicans and too many voters. As an American I’m embarrassed by Bush; if I were a Republican, I would be beside myself with disgust.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder what things would be like if the Republican president were, say, Richard Posner. Would the revulsion among humanities scholars be quite as universal? Would an interviewee’s having voted for him be quite such an automatic trip-wire? I really wonder. I know it wouldn’t in my case. I’m quite sure I would disagree with many of his policies, but I wouldn’t feel as if there were an unqualifed overprivileged not very bright mediocrity in the job, and that would make a big difference.

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