emember how a
certain mental titan was gonna wipe the floor with that dummy George
Bush during the presidential
No, not that George Bush. I'm talking about George I.
I remember when campus scuttlebutt, the brilliant Michael Dukakis,
was gonna clean George Bush's clock during the debates. Bush the
Elder had been a congressman, U.N. ambassador, head of the CIA,
and vice president. But hey, he was a Republican, so when push came
to shove, he had to be a dummy, right? Wrong. Bush won the debates.
Of course that didn't stop the press from concocting ludicrous caricatures
of Bush's running mate, Dan Quayle. If anything, it made such caricatures
more necessary. And shall we talk of Ronald Reagan? It's taken the
publication of his writings, on his 90th birthday, to finally overcome
Reagan's reputation as a simpleton. Even today the Democrats are
being blindsided by yet another very clever George Bush, for whom
they've foolishly lowered the public's and their own
The irrepressible tendency to label Republicans stupid, is, well
Although it destroyed Dan Quayle's political hopes, it can sometimes
work in Republicans' favor. But I promise you, this perennial slander
is not worth sustaining. It's the symptom of a deeper and deadlier
disease. One must always remember that the elite liberals who control
the Democratic party, the media, and much of our culture, graduated
from colleges where they never encountered a single intelligent
conservative argument, let alone an intelligent conservative professor.
Instead of engaging in genuine debate with living, breathing opponents,
the intellectual mentors of today's cultural elite made a sport
out of cartooning conservatives. No wonder their charges grew up
thinking of Republicans as brainless. Conservatives may deride the
academy's leftist posturing as silly, but the truth is, the Left's
control of our colleges and universities has already unleashed untold
havoc on the country. It's the reason we're losing the culture war.
Fifteen years ago, a radical feminist like Catherine MacKinnon would
have been dismissed, even in the New York Times, as a leftist
loon. Now, having packed the law schools and women's studies programs
with her acolytes, MacKinnon writes the nation's sexual harassment
laws. Almost every cultural movement that conservatives fear and
abhor finds its power base in the academy. It's no accident that
many of the key strategy meetings to scuttle the Ashcroft nomination
were held in the offices of the American Association of University
If the Bush administration hopes to impart a lasting cultural legacy,
it's going to have to bite the bullet and do something serious to
take back the academy. How so? Admittedly, the prospects for recapture
look bleak. That's because the
radical Left now has tenure. And it's only going to get worse. Today's
tenured radicals were hired by old-fashioned liberals bent on giving
people with a different perspective a break. Then, having got their
collective foot in the door, the radicals systematically went about
reproducing themselves and quashing their opposition. Even so, for
all the changes in the past couple of decades, the leftist usurpation
of the academy has never been complete. That's because the previous
generation of old-fashioned liberals (with a few conservatives sprinkled
among them) had tenure too. Most of these older professors
the ones originally hired to teach the huge baby boom cohort of
the sixties are nearing retirement. That spells doom. The
Left will lord over the academy, unchallenged, for decades.
the Bush administration hopes to impart a lasting cultural
legacy, it's going to have to bite the bullet and do something
serious to take back the academy.
Or will it? It's just possible that the near-total vice-lock the
Left now has on the academy could slacken. Here's one plausible
scenario as to how that might happen and how the Bush administration
can help it along.
Step one is to use the bully pulpit to highlight and de-legitimize
the academy's prejudices. This was William Bennett's old job as
Ronald Reagan's secretary of education. Bush's education secretary,
Roderick Page, is preoccupied with primary schooling. But whomever
Bush picks to chair the National Endowment for the Humanities could
take on the academy. That's how Lynn Cheney got famous, after all.
If there's one place where the Bushies need to forgo their preference
for experienced administrators over intellectuals, this is it. The
NEH doesn't need a manager at the helm. It needs to be headed by
a respected public intellectual, not a fire-breather, but someone
able to muster a credible case for restoring ideological balance
to the universities.
But, you say, President Bush has promised to be a "uniter, not a
divider." Won't a culture war over the academy get in the way of
Bush's positive message? Not if it's done right. The extremism of
the academic Left is our ally here. All a savvy head of the NEH
needs to ask for is fair representation for all points of view.
If we can have conservatives and liberals duking it out on every
talk show in America, why can't we have a reasoned debate between
the best thinkers from both political perspectives inside our colleges
and universities? Who could be against that? Or, shall we say, who
could admit to being against that? This is one cultural battle
that can only be a political windfall for Bush especially
if the Left is silly enough to openly parade its claims that our
traditions of fair representation are just a cover for white, male,
heterosexist power. Unlike the Ashcroft nomination, which raised
issues on which the country is narrowly split, it's easy to find
a popular majority to laugh at egregious examples of campus nuttery.
Even if a spirited campaign for campus fairness ends up changing
nothing in our universities, it would still be a political winner
for Bush. Better to frame the debate over Bush's cultural policy
around calls for campus fairness than around which Cabinet secretaries
read Southern Partisan.
But there may be more than a mere political victory at stake. Students
are bored with PC group-think, deeply resentful about having to
grub for grades by knuckling under to their professor's ideology,
and are yearning for honest debate. If we can't drive the tenured
radicals out of the academy, perhaps we can use their students'
restiveness to propel a new intellectual coterie.
These days, many fine colleges offer "great books" style programs
that are entirely voluntary. Unlike the old mandatory programs at
Stanford and Columbia, these demanding core curriculum programs
don't spur protest, principally because they're not forced on anyone.
In fact, they radiate prestige and the best students often flock
to them. Such programs could easily be tweaked so that, somewhere
along the way, students are encouraged to juxtapose the very best
traditional and contemporary writings of both the Left and the Right.
Sure, let them indulge in Karl Marx and Michel Foucault, but also
allow them to study Edmund Burke and Allan Bloom. Given the current
curriculum, this would be a revolutionary change.
It's critical that new staff be hired for such programs, on the
premise that experts in conservative thought would be every bit
as needed as experts in the usual academic disciplines. With a new
and more balanced faculty, and with a program exciting enough to
draw in large numbers of the very best students, competing schools
might soon wish to replicate this kind of curriculum.
Programs such as these could be supported by the Bush NEH and Department
of Education. True, it would be better if our universities employed
large numbers of thoughtful conservatives and non-partisan empiricists
alongside leftist ideologues. But that's not going to happen anytime
soon. An achievable first step is a program structured around fair
consideration of the best in both liberal and conservative thinking.
Recall that political correctness arose for a reason. More powerful
than any argument is the simple exclusion of your opponent from
reasoned debate. Nothing does more to telegraph to students the
presumed idiocy or evil of conservative ideas than the fact that
the usual academic arguments don't even take conservatism into account.
That's what creates the palpable sense that John Ashcroft may be
vicious or Ronald Reagan may be dumb. An NEH chairman that calls
colleges on their bias, combined with some measure of intellectual
equanimity on campus, could achieve more than you might think. By
piercing the veil of silence, by challenging the monopoly of ideas,
we might finally snap the long spell of political correctness. It's
worth a try.