Ever since the left wing captured the universities and media, putative conservatives desiring media favor and intellectual respectability have been apologizing for conservatism's most popular and effective figures. These days, they want to distance themselves from the "anger" and "extremism" of such personalities as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
What they ought to be doing instead is taking lessons from Beck as he lectures in front of a blackboard, a fitting symbol for what has gone wrong. Conservatism is rising, and we have the intellectual and historical high ground. Much of the most recent round of distancing came after the American Enterprise Institute's Stephen F. Hayward's op-ed "Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?" was published in the Washington Post on October 4. Conservatives have lost such urbane voices as William F. Buckley, said Hayward; they suffer an "insufficient ability to challenge liberalism at the intellectual level." Hayward did praise Beck, though, for "challenging liberalism's bedrock assumptions" from "time to time" and having Professor R.J. Pestritto on his program. But this part of Hayward's analysis, which came toward the end of the column, was lost in the post-commentary.
After Interim White House Communications Director Anita Dunn then denounced Fox News as the "propaganda arm" of the Republican Party on Saturday, October 10, talk-show host Michael Medved in an October 14 column called for a more moderate tone. But it was Glenn Beck who the next day showed exclusive footage of Dunn praising Mao Tse-Tung as one of her "heroes." Dunn fired back with the insulting claim that the "irony" with which her comments were made was lost on Beck. (As an English professor and therefore somewhat of an authority on irony, I can say that was not irony.)
On October 18, David Axelrod declared Fox News illegitimate.
Fox defenders (namely Greta Van Susteren) have since been distinguishing between news and editorial -- thus distancing themselves from Beck and Limbaugh. Talk show hosts call their colleagues "entertainers."
Beck, however, is not excoriated for his funny faces and jokes, but for exposing the radical and communist backgrounds of Obama's inner circle. And as the messenger, he is automatically suspect. For example, the progressive club's favorite conservative, Kathleen Parker, cites a count of such "adrenaline-pumping" words as "socialism" by Glenn Beck to trivialize the whole affair.
But Parker simply echoes the conventional wisdom of today's educated elite that references to or criticisms of communists and communism are ipso facto red-baiting and therefore illegitimate terms for use in argument.
Such out-of-hand dismissals would not be taking place, though, if anti-anti-communism did not prevail in our educational institutions. As Paul Kengor details, our textbooks are rife with omissions and distortions when it comes to communism, and scholars who dare to honestly study communism, like Vladimir Brovkin, are denied tenured positions. Historian Mark Moyar too has spoken out about the discrimination he has faced because of his historical analysis of Vietnam. At a forum for high school history teachers, I heard an invited speaker, a professor, attribute Cold War fears to irrational imaginings of Americans, while dismissing the research of historians who combed the Soviet archives as a mere "cottage industry." When I asked her how many people had been killed by communist regimes, she replied, "I don't know."
It's no wonder that my college students exhibit a blasé attitude when I mention such historically unprecedented acts as the President firing the CEO of GM. Now a "pay czar" is setting salaries in the private sector. I have to admit that I have to keep myself from getting excited the way Beck does as I try to convey the historical significance of such events.
The fact that Dunn's audience did not gasp, boo, or hiss at her praise of Mao, and that college audiences display a similar blasé attitude towards the anti-Semitism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reveals the decay of our educational system.
Yet, the "extremists" at the tea parties and town halls who are dismissed by the fashionable intelligentsia display a profound understanding of the document that is most often referred to on placards and distributed at events: the Constitution. They understand the soft tyranny of government encroachment the way our college students cannot. They have read Alexis de Tocqueville for themselves or indirectly through Mark Levin. They have been exposed to Pistratto on the Glenn Beck program and understand that the progressive era brought in the graduated income tax, eugenics, and government bullying. They understand that the paternalistic progressivism that promises to protect us from everything -- from high interest rates on credit cards to too much fat in foods -- is a "soft despotism" that threatens to reduce us to "a flock of timid and industrious animals," as de Tocqueville warned.
Although a Pew Research Center survey showed that Republicans are better-informed than Democrats, the myth that Democrats and progressives are more intelligent and better-educated remains. But that's because they control the governmental and educational institutions. They are the Establishment. One of the most memorable attacks came from MS-NBC (whose parent is the behemoth General Electric), where Rachel Maddow ridiculed these law-abiding Americans by making lewd jokes about the homosexual practice of "teabagging." It is much easier to ridicule than to debate on the merits of the issues, and Maddow's ridicule is not too far from what goes on in college classrooms. The Left has succeeded in altering the education and media institutions. The effort began in earnest in 1962, when the 59-college-students-strong Students for a Democrat Society gathered at Port Huron, Michigan. In their position paper, "The Port Huron Statement," penned by Tom Hayden, they outlined a strategy for instituting a new "political synthesis" outside the normal political channels, and instead through the educational institutions. Their renamed communist goal of "participatory democracy" was implemented subsequently through "participatory learning." These people, like Weatherman co-founder Bill Ayers, have overhauled the educational system. Ayers is now "distinguished" professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and he is spreading his radical gospel to future teachers as I've reported here and here. To instill the lessons of "social justice," education professors now encourage students to "explore" in their own groups -- thereby excusing teachers of any need to actually know their subject matter. Although leftists are fond of using Michel Foucault's analysis of power and the New Historicist view of truth as determined by "interpretive communities," they have shouldered out teachers who deviate from the truth as determined by the reigning "interpretative community." And that scholarship denies the ravages of communism and the harm done by spies. For every Pestritto who has been able to land the rare tenured job at a Hillsdale College, there are hundreds of conservatives who understand the odds stacked against them and leave academia in disgust or labor underground as adjuncts. Consequently, the story students hear is that conservatism equals rapacity and progressivism equals caring. Without the context of history, philosophy, and literature, an emphasis on private property comes across as mere selfishness. But as Steven Malanga details in City Journal, curriculums and reading lists affect attitudes regarding work and saving. I would add that they also affect voting.
Although various conservative advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity have kicked into high gear in reaction to the threat of government takeover of health care, I have not seen similar action in response to the takeover of education. Most of these groups target citizens already disposed to be wary of large government. But where is the program to instill the idea into a nineteen-year-old's head that a Washington bureaucrat determining health care decisions is antithetical to our notions of freedom? Where is the program to counter the dominant pedagogy that insists that students make "collective" decisions and write "collaboratively"? Where is the program that encourages independent thought?
As if the specialties of post-colonialism and queer theory among professors of education weren't enough, commercial curriculum programs like America's Choice and Teaching Matters are sold to school districts. Their focus too is on social justice for the aggrieved, and their pedagogical strategy employs collaboration.
Additionally, National Public Radio offers curriculum materials on nearly all subjects. And so does the far-left magazine The Nation and the radical group PETA (tellingly calling its high school curriculum not the history of the animal welfare movement, but "social justice").
In the midst of this takeover, many conservatives have retreated to their homes, choosing to educate their own children with their own curricula. But public education should be the concern of all who are worried about the country. Public schools produce teachers who spread the gospel of social justice even in private and religious schools. Public schools, which we all pay for, produce voters, workers, citizens, and prison inmates.
The objection to an alternative curriculum will come from unionized teachers, of course, and that is why the materials should be developed with care, namely to reinstate the information that has been deleted. In addition to correcting the historical record, conservatives should instate themselves as producers of culture and art of a type which nurtures the moral imagination and complements the historical record and civic outlook. There is a reason that communist-denying professors disparage Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.
Now, conservatives are rightly disgusted with most of the visual and literary art being produced. Most often it expresses a narcissistic nihilism spread over political correctness. Understandably, liberals -- and not conservatives -- support contemporary art.
But the liberal artists are affecting political outcomes. After the 2006 elections, after reading a political post by a fiction writer on the Huffington Post, I surveyed contributors' bios and found that about 25% specialized in the creative arts, most often writing. Conservative publications and think-tanks, though, mostly employ scholars in political science, law, and economics.
The literary journals produced on college campuses include overt criticisms of Republican policies in their creative nonfiction and ruminations on the cherished left-wing themes of victimization and narcissistic self-discovery in their fiction and poetry. There is no alternative that publishes work dealing with such age-old and universal themes as morality, mortality, beauty, heroism, and justice -- the stuff the great classics are made of.
NPR also features book reviews and author interviews, but I know of no nationally accessible radio program that provides such offerings for those not inside the leftist literary club.
It is true that some conservative foundations are sponsoring some good work on college campuses. But few people know about them, and those who engage in their discussions are mostly professors lucky enough to beat the odds and enjoy the safety of tenure or a coveted position at a think-tank. Their work largely remains in esoteric realms. The minority of college students drawn to such programs tend to already be sensitized to the issues.
The reaction to the rot in education and culture does not match the reaction to health care, as evidenced by town halls, where one participant told Arlen Specter, "You have awakened a sleeping giant." Indeed, hard-working, middle-class, middle-aged America has awakened from its stupor on this issue.
But wouldn't it make more sense to try to rescue the values and culture of the West and implant them in the minds of the young in a way that is associated with intellectualism (as in fact it is)?
If we did, we would not be reacting in panic to such issues as government health care (with the fires of Afghanistan, illegal immigration, and free speech popping up too). In other words, we would not simply be reacting according to a script from the Saul Alinsky playbook, but establishing our rightful place as intellectual leaders.
Then Glenn Beck and I will not be seen as isolated Jeremiahs, shouting and weeping.