By JEFF PICKELL
I’m somewhat disheartened by the prevalence of anti-intellectualism in America. Granted, there are plenty of reasons to hate intellectuals—they wear berets, they’re no good at pick-up sports, they bogart all the library books—but anti-intellectualism is still a problem, especially as it concerns the way we choose our leaders.
A lot of people seem to think they need political leaders who can relate to them—John Q. Everymen who aren’t much different than the rest of us working stiffs. They want a regular guy, with a wife and two kids and an old rust bucket in the garage that he tinkers with on Saturdays. They want a politician who can identify with their sensibilities making the decisions that affect their lives.
As someone who has recently taken to combing his hair with a fork because he’s too lazy to buy a comb, I am of a different mindset. In fact, if there are any politicians in office who can even remotely identify with any of my sensibilities, they should, for the good of the nation, be fired, impeached or forced to resign. I know me, and I know that anyone even minutely similar to me in a position of power is a bad idea.
I’m surprised that few working stiffs feel the same way. I read a report by a professor from George Mason University recently that describes Woodrow Wilson, a former Yale professor, as the last great intellectual president.
Since Wilson, so says the report, presidential candidates have been marketed to appear less educated than they really are. Our current president, for example, rarely mentions that he was born in New Haven, Connecticut, not west Texas, and that he holds degrees from both Harvard and Yale. Gerald Ford is often remembered more for his football days at Michigan than his career as a crack lawyer. Bush the first and Bill Clinton (a Rhodes Scholar, for crying out loud) both used their deceptively stupid sounding accents to their advantage, and Ronald Reagan, as we all remember, was the Gipper.
Why are the political parties so afraid of marketing a candidate as “so smart he’ll make your head spin?” According to the report, intellectuals—thoroughly educated individuals who engage in activities such as writing long, boring books that nobody wants to read—are perceived by the public as effeminate thumb twiddlers who would rather read a treatise than make a decision.
Which boggles my mind. Here’s one for you reactionaries who like to throw around crazy terms like “founder’s intent” when it comes to interpreting matters of law and constitutionality: the founders of our country were wig-wearing wusses. They were intellectuals in the utmost.
Sure, we’ve all seen stern-looking portraits of these guys on our dollars and cents, but has anybody ever sat down and read a document written by any one of the founding fathers? No! Of course not! And for the same reason nobody reads the texts of Locke, or Diderot, or Montesquieu, or, heaven forbid, the Viscount Castlereaugh! They’re dense and obfuscated! They’re philosophical! They’re intellectual!
Attempt to read The Declaration of Independence. I dare you. Just try to plow through it. Call me in March when you emerge from the boredom-induced coma it puts you in. The same goes for the Federalist Papers. Heck, a few random lines from the Constitution are enough to put a roomful of crying children to rest.
But this shouldn’t be considered a detriment to the character of these great men. Though the majority of our founding fathers were undoubtedly girlish prigs, they still did a bang up job with the decisions that led to the founding of this nation, where I can call the founding fathers girlish prigs and not be strung up by my heels (not yet, at least. We’ll see what kind of public response this column gets).
After its founding, the country enjoyed prosperity within the boring clutches of the intellectuals until 1829, when the voting populace soured on John Quincy Adams’ “Think about stuff” platform in favor of Andrew Jackson’s “Kill Native Americans indiscriminately” platform.
That’s where our country first began to stray. We need to go back to the original formula. We need to cede control of the country to the true intellectuals, and put Dubya, Slick Willy, and Bush the First back where they belong—that is, in front of the bathroom mirror, fork in hand, trying to get that part juuuuuuust right. You know, with the rest of us people who want to look stupid.– February 8, 2006