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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Conservative Thinkers' Self-Inflicted Dilemma

Reading a Politico piece on Republican elites worrying about 2012, you can almost stop reading after the fourth paragraph:

It's a tough time to be a conservative intellectual.

From the Weekly Standard to the Wall Street Journal, on the pages of policy periodicals and opinion sections, the egghead right's longing for a presidential candidate of ideas -- first Mitch Daniels, then Paul Ryan -- has been endless, intense, and unrequited.

Profoundly dissatisfied with the current field, that dull ache may only grow more acute after Ryan's decision Monday to take himself out of the running.

The problem, in shorthand: To many conservative elites, Rick Perry is a dope, Michele Bachmann is a joke, and Mitt Romney is a fraud.


Sums things up pretty well, doesn't it? Of course, this is something of a self-inflicted wound. After years of standing by while others rail against "ivory tower intellectuals" or even engaging in it themselves, wonky conservatives find themselves hit by a backlash. And the backlash is against not only the highly educated, but against intelligence itself. They've helped train Republican voters to distrust facts. From global warming to evolution to economics to history, the battle cry has been "What do they know?"

And so now the know-nothings, those for whom the facts mean nothing, and the finger-in-the-wind poll-followers who believe whatever is most popular -- even as whatever's popular changes from month to month -- are the big heroes. They once thought the party and the nation could hobble along with a dummy running the show, but George W. Bush proved them wrong. Republican anti-intellectualism leads to disaster and incompetence and two presidential failures in a row could put their party in the position of Democrats in the late '80s and early '90s when, rightly or wrongly, George Bush the elder managed to turn the term "liberal" into a dirty word. "Republican presidents suck," backed by solid evidence, could set the party back for a while.

But, of course, the problem facing conservative intelligentsia is that they're an endangered species. If you doubt that, consider that Paul Ryan -- author of the least popular policy proposal in years -- was their big hope. When your best possible candidate is a man who put forward a Medicare-robbing plan that was opposed by 84% of voters, then you are (and please excuse the highly technical term) royally screwed. When that's your absolute best possible choice, then you're not choosing from a very wide inventory.

They only have themselves to blame for that. It seems to me that "intellectuals" should be a little more intelligent.


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