"Beware intellectuals. Not merely should they be kept away from the levers of power. They should be objects of suspicion when they offer collective advice. Intellectuals habitually forget that people matter more than concepts and must come first. The worst of all despotisms is the heartless tyranny of ideas." So writes British historian Paul Johnson on the last page of "Intellectuals," his 200-year survey of the damage done by brainy elites in public life.
That was in 1988, and the hit parade hasn’t stopped. A sequel could chronicle Hillary Clinton's debacle as health-care czar, Al Gore's phony climate panic, the failed presidential candidacies of uber-smart guys Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, and Barack Obama learning the hard way that being president requires different skills than being, in Sarah Palin's words, "a professor at a lectern."
Keynesian wonks, led by Larry Summers of Harvard, assured us that throwing a trillion or so at liberal pet projects would keep unemployment under 8 percent. IQ-meisters from all the right medical schools, tricked out in borrowed lab coats for the photo op, endorsed central planning for one-sixth of the economy, the better to keep us all healthy – until we flunk Rahm Emanuel’s brother’s cost-benefit test, at which time say goodbye.
From the massive wave of disillusionment at such policy quackery, reaching into the very core of Obama’s support – exemplified by Velma Hart, a woman, an African American, and a government employee, asking him on national TV, “Is this my new reality?” – comes the thundering electoral rebuke to his leadership that everyone now expects on Nov. 2. The Oz moment is over, and the unheroic little man behind the curtain is concealed no more.
The Tea Party movement is evidence of millions of Americans losing patience with the beneficent rule of enlightened experts that has been progressivism’s holy grail since the days of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and raucously agreeing with Paul Johnson that “a dozen people picked at random on the street are as likely to offer sensible views on moral and political matters as a cross-section of the intelligentsia.” MORE likely, the Glenn Beck insurgents would roar, and they wouldn’t exempt the Republican intelligentsia either.
But here in Colorado, during an election that broadly pits the people vs. the professors, you’d have to say that Republican CU regent Steve Bosley, an aw-shucks businessman, is better positioned than Harvard grad and Boulder law prof Melissa Hart, his Democratic challenger, in their race for a term of six years in the at-large seat. He needs that edge, because she’s no lightweight, having won a 2008 campaign to block color-blind college admissions. And the right needs him, because the campus left has big plans if the GOP’s 5-4 majority is reversed. According to a regents’ vote last February, “diversity of political perspectives… to ensure the rich interchange of ideas” is a guiding principle for the University of Colorado. CU’s website features a link to President Bruce Benson saying so. Convulse with laughter if you must – I did – but then consider that having the governing board on record for such an aspiration is at least a start, even though faculty conservatives remain scandalously scarce up there.
And next consider that if Professor Hart becomes Regent Hart, this academic heresy is over, kaput. Nanny McPhee is having none of it. “It is very unfortunate when intellectual diversity gets mixed up with political diversity,” she told a reporter. Translation: we’ll diversify our post-modernism between Foucault and Derrida, but no way we’re cohabiting this campus with limited-government reactionaries and pro-life primitives.
Will the professorial crowd or the populists prevail? Does San Fran Nancy fall to Ohio John Boehner for Speaker of the House -- and in Colorado races, bookish John Hickenlooper to biker Tom Tancredo for governor, urbane Michael Bennet to bluejeans Ken Buck for senator, faculty-club Hart to gun-club Bosley for regent? In ten days we’ll know.