n his latest ad hominem-based syndicated article, the resident radical-Left opinion writer at the Los Angeles Times, Robert Scheer, mocked the intelligence of Attorney General John Ashcroft. In a vertical screed, Scheer wrote the following: Ashcroft is "not the sharpest [tool] in the shed." He "managed to lose a Senate race to a dead man." He "was not picked for his smarts." He is a "Keystone Kop in charge of law enforcement." And, in the most telling comment, "Perhaps it is just too difficult for a stern, God-fearing fundamentalist like the attorney general to fully anticipate the dark side of religion's wrath."
Scheer's writing reflects the polemic arrogance monopolized by a Left that is convinced its ranks are just too smart for conservatives to fathom and that conservatives are just too troglodytic to be liberal. Thus, as Paul Bacon has written, Gerald R. Ford was consistently mocked during his presidency as a bumbling and stumbling fool. (In fact, Ford played on two championship football teams at the University of Michigan, and his athletic dexterity was rewarded when he was named a college all-star. He simultaneously was named a Phi Beta Kappa at that top-ten college and went on to earn a Juris Doctor degree at Yale Law School, commonly regarded as one of the nation's two finest law schools.)
Liberal critics regularly mocked Ronald Reagan as a dumb actor who could not conceive an original thought but relied on cue cards. (This, despite Reagan having been elected president of a prominent union of exceptionally opinionated and discerning members, the Screen Actors Guild, and having served two terms as elected governor of America's most populous state.) The first President George Bush was the butt of the slogan: "It's the economy, stupid." And the current president, who earned his bachelor's degree at Yale and his M.B.A. at Harvard, is mocked for flubbing words and is depicted as lacking the intelligence a liberal would expect of a Democrat counterpart like, say, erstwhile journalism professor Al Gore. As for the only conservative president in the past half century who manifestly was smart, the liberals dismissed Richard Nixon's intelligence as "tricky."
By contrast, we were told that Jimmy Carter was not merely a peanut farmer but really a particularly brilliant man, studious and capable of grasping every detail of his office, and we were reminded constantly that Bill Clinton was a Rhodes scholar out of Yale. (Only two Democrats have held the presidency in the past 34 years, a sign of someone's intelligence.)
It is not clear why the Left is so smug about its supposed brilliance. Under Jimmy Carter, interest rates nearly hit 20 percent. Was the Left convinced that Gerald Ford, Carter's predecessor, maintained inflation in the four-percent range because he could not match Carter's ability to multiply mortgage rates by percentages five times higher? Moreover, under Carter, an antediluvian Islamic cleric held our entire nation hostage for so long that the Ayatollah's drama literally created a steady viewership over fourteen months for a new network television show, Nightline. The Carter years also saw the United States give up the Panama Canal, the Soviets invade Afghanistan and extend their hegemony into Africa, even prompting new Marxist rumblings in South America. In response, Carter pulled our Olympic athletes out of world competition to make a moral statement that he understood better than did a less sophisticated Leonid Brezhnev.
With Reagan the Actor, inflation plunged, the bond market revived, the economy boomed, the 52 hostages were freed bloodlessly from Iran, Libya's Col. Qaddafi was disabused of continuing his role on the cutting edge of state terrorism , the Sandinistas were stopped in Nicaragua, Communism was eradicated from Granada, and the evil Soviet Empire began to crumble from Africa to Eastern Europe to Asia. His successor, the first President Bush, finished the job of assuring Communism's demise, built an international coalition that freed Kuwait, nabbed Panamanian strongman Manual Noriega and closed down his national drug store.
For two years, from 1992-1994, the Clintons of Yale came to town. Perspicacious in their uniquely liberal way, they turned the armed forces into a social laboratory, failed miserably in an attempt to socialize healthcare, and brilliantly managed to achieve something that half a century of dummies could not even conceptualize: They inspired the American electorate to entrust both Houses of Congress to the Republicans. In time, the man whose haircut had stopped traffic at LAX airport was dismantling welfare as we knew it, cutting the deficit, preaching fiscal prudence, backing away from Joycelyn Elders after 15 months and Lani Guinier after what seemed like 15 days, and behaving himself at least in public. Even so, in the one area that most dramatically remains the ultimate province of the Presidency the role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States this most brilliant of our recent presidents allowed Osama bin Laden to build an al Qaeda terror infrastructure.
It is difficult, then, to fathom why radicals on the Left think they are so much smarter than conservatives. Consider, for example, Scheer and Ashcroft. Ashcroft earned his undergraduate degree at Yale and then graduated from the University of Chicago Law School, one of the top-ranked and exclusive academic institutions in the country. Just to get admitted requires profoundly and consistently high college grades and a stellar score on the law-school admissions test. His father was a university president. Ashcroft coauthored two college textbooks. He managed to get elected to statewide office several times, including two terms as state attorney general, two terms as governor (prevented by term limits from seeking reelection again), and a term as United States senator.
But what of Scheer? He graduated City College of New York, a good school that my uncle attended, and then did graduate work at Syracuse University, where my very intelligent wife studied. And then he did more graduate work, in economics at the Center for Chinese Studies at Berkeley. Ah-ha! That's what makes him smart enough to write a regular screed for the Los Angeles Times. But he never was elected a United States senator or a governor. He never engaged in or directed law enforcement.
And, judging from his mocking Attorney-General Ashcroft's "God-fearing fundamentalis[m]," Scheer presumably is too smart to fear G-d. It is hard to see why Ashcroft's love of Bible study should detract rather than augment his role in law enforcement. The Bible teaches respect for life and adherence to the social order. If anything, it is quirky that, under Ashcroft, the Justice Department has toed an annoyingly politically correct line against ethnic profiling at airports. With 15 Saudi Arabian males among the 19 terrorists of September 11 and with all of them Arab Muslim men between ages 20 and 45 the Justice Department absurdly endorses stopping elderly ladies for airport scrutiny, while others who would be stopped by El Al security officers merrily walk by, unchecked.
If political correctness at the airport is ludicrous, we still may take solace that our security lies in the hands of those not smart enough for Scheer, a commentator who equates Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Slobodan Milosevic. Writing in December 1990 from his Left lair at the redoubtable Los Angeles Times, Scheer described the secretary general of the Soviet Communist party: "Mikhail Gorbachev arguably has changed the world more dramatically and with less bloodshed than any leader since Christ." Less than a year later, Gorby, if not Scheer, had been recycled by forces for freedom. Still, it was refreshing seeing a breath of religion emanating from Mr. Scheer's pen.
Dov B. Fischer, an attorney and political affairs commentator, writes from Los Angeles.