Saturday, November 15, 2008
Where did their brains go?
It's like they all decided to read the sports' pages and get their ideas from Bill O'.
The dumbing down of the GOP
Last updated November 14, 2008 4:24 p.m. PT
John Stuart Mill once dismissed the British Conservative Party as the stupid party. Today the Conservative Party is run by Oxford-educated high-fliers who are busy reinventing conservatism for a new era.
As The Economist's pundit Lexington sees it, the title of the "stupid party" now belongs to the Tories' transatlantic cousins, the Republicans.
There are any number of reasons for the Republican Party's defeat. But high on the list is the fact that the party lost the battle for brains.
Barack Obama won college graduates by two points, a group that George Bush won by six points four years ago. He won voters with postgraduate degrees by 18 points. And he won voters with a household income of more than $200,000 -- many of whom will get thumped by his tax increases -- by six points.
John McCain did best among uneducated voters in Appalachia and the South.
The GOP lost the battle of ideas even more comprehensively than the battle for educated votes, marching into the election with nothing more than slogans.
Energy? Just drill, baby, drill. Global warming? Crack a joke about Ozone Al. Immigration? Send the bums home. Torture and Guantanamo? Wear a T-shirt saying you would rather be waterboarding.
The Republican Party's divorce from the intelligentsia has been a while in the making. The born-again Bush preferred listening to his "heart" rather than his "head." He also filled the government with incompetent toadies like Michael "heck-of-a-job" Brown.
McCain, once the chattering classes' favorite Republican, refused to grapple with the intricacies of the financial meltdown, preferring instead to look for cartoonish villains. In a desperate attempt to serve boob bait to Bubba, he appointed Sarah Palin to his ticket, a woman who took five years to get a degree in journalism and was apparently unaware of some of the most rudimentary facts about international politics.
Republicanism's anti-intellectual turn is devastating for its future. Its electoral success from 1980 on was driven by its ability to link brains with brawn.
The conservative intelligentsia not only helped to craft a message that resonated with working-class Democrats, which emphasized entrepreneurialism, law and order and American pride. It provided the party with a sweeping policy agenda. The loss of brains leaves it rudderless, without a compelling agenda.
This is happening at a time when the American population is becoming more educated. More than a quarter of Americans now have university degrees. Twenty percent of households earn more than $100,000 a year, up from 16 percent in 1996.
The Republican Party's current "redneck strategy" will leave it appealing to a shrinking and backward-looking portion of the electorate.
Why is this happening? One reason is that conservative brawn has lost patience with brains of all kinds. Many conservatives -- particularly lower-income ones -- are consumed with elemental fury about everything from immigration to liberal do-gooders.
They take their opinions from talk radio and regard Palin's apparent ignorance as a badge of honor.
Another reason is the degeneracy of the conservative intelligentsia itself, a modern-day version of the 1970s liberals it arose to do battle with: trapped in an ideological cocoon, defined by its outer fringes and incapable of adjusting to a changed world.
The movement has little to say about pressing problems and expends too much energy on xenophobia, homophobia and opposing stem-cell research.
Conservative intellectuals are also engaged in their own version of what Julian Benda dubbed la trahison des clercs, the treason of the learned.
They have fallen into constructing cartoon images of "real Americans," with their "volkish" wisdom and charming habit of dropping their "g's."
How likely is it that the Republican Party will come to its senses? There are glimmers of hope. Business conservatives worry that the party has lost the business vote. Moderates complain that the Republicans are becoming the party of "white-trash pride."
One of the most encouraging signs is the support for giving the chairmanship of the party to John Sununu, a sensible and clever man who has the added advantage of coming from the Northeast.
But the odds in favor of an imminent renaissance look long. Richard Weaver, a founder of modern conservatism, once wrote a book titled "Ideas have Consequences"; unfortunately, too many Republicans are still refusing to acknowledge that idiocy has consequences, too.
From The Economist magazine. Copyright 2008 Economist Newspaper Ltd.
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