The Problem with Conservative Academics
If you want to understand why there are so few conservative academics, consider the latest piece of drivel from Yale computer scientist David Gelernter. It appeared in a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times. It carries the title “Adrift in a Sea of Phoniness,” and the subtitle “American political discourse -- especially on the left -- has abandoned logic, reason and honesty for a pack of nasty lies.”
Now, when I think of the abandonment of logic and reason in modern politcial discourse, I think of things like the Republican party's wholesale embrace of creationism, or their fanaticism on the subject of abstinence-only sex education. When I think of dishonesty I think of all the misleading and false arguments they made to justify the war in Iraq, not to mention the unbelievably sleazy campaigns they ran in 2000 and 2004.
But Gelernter can't be bothered with such trivialities. Instead he gives three examples of leftist dishonesty and illogic. His first example is far too vague to be assessed:
Recently, Vice President Cheney and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) disagreed. Rangel denounced Cheney, rudely. The VP denounced him back. Rangel's response: Cheney must apologize.
First, why should Cheney apologize and not Rangel? More important, note the ever more popular idea that politicians must apologize on cue like trained seals whenever a noisy enough group orders them to. Yet every 5-year-old knows that a coerced apology has got to be insincere. Otherwise it wouldn't need to be coerced.
Am I really expected to assess this situation based on Gelernter's four sentence description of it? If I am going to determine who owes whom an apology, wouldn't I need to know what each person said? Gelernter doesn't even tell us what the subject of discussion was, for heaven's sake.
And the point of a coercing an apology out of a politician is not to get a sincere declaration of remorse. The point is to so embarrass the politician in question that other people will think twice about offending the interest group in question. Every five-year old knows that. When the politician has said something genuinely offensive, this can be quite a good result. When it's a matter of a narrow interest group being hypersensitive, then it's not so good.
Here's Gelernter's second example:
A few weeks ago, [conservative radio talk show host Bill] Bennett said on his radio program that X is a stupid idea; then he said that if you believe X, you might as well believe Y. But Y is “impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible.” One thing we know for sure: Bennett is against Y. He thinks that Y is “impossible,” is “ridiculous,” is “morally reprehensible.” “Y” was the idea that aborting all black babies would cut the crime rate.
So the left jumped all over him. Bizarrely enough, the White House chimed in. (A Republican White House opening fire on Bennett is like the Joint Chiefs bombing their own front lines.) Yet no one who read or heard Bennett's actual statement in context could possibly have believed that Bennett is racist or had talked like a racist. (Emphasis in original).
Once again, no one not already familiar with the Bennett situation will have the slightest idea what Gelernter is talking about. As it happens, though, this time I do know the details. So let me remind you that recently Bill Bennett said the following on his show, as described in in this article from Slate:
“I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were your sole purpose—you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down,” Bennett volunteered. “That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So, these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.”
Incidentally, the Slate article linked to above has a good run-down of all the issues related to Bennett's statement. In particular, they point to several examples of right-wing pundits telling lies about what Bennett actually said. But seeing major television pundits lie to protect a colleague doesn't seem to bother Gelernter.
It is possible that if you go digging around in the darkest corners of the left-wing blogosphere, you might find someone who believes that Bennett supports the wholesale abortion of black children. But back on planet Earth the criticism of Bennett revolved around his bald assertion that aborting all black children would cause the crime rate to go down. That was the statement that brought all of the well-deserved heat.
And what terrible thing happened to Bennett as a result of this fracas? Bennett made an offenisve statement and various interest groups (including the White House, as Gelernter notes) criticized him for it. That's it. Did Bennett lose his show? Was he forced to grovel publicly? Not at all. So what is Gelernter so upset about?
Let's go to his third example:
Richard Lamm is the former Democratic governor of Colorado (1975-1987), now a free-thinking, self-described “progressive conservative” who teaches public policy at the University of Denver. In the journal of the conservative National Assn. of Scholars, Lamm has written about the time he submitted an article about racism to a university publication called the Source — which is run by the administration, not by students.
Lamm's submission compared the harm wrought by racism to the good that comes out of working to overcome obstacles. His article discussed the success of the Japanese, Jews and Cubans in the U.S.; all three have suffered bigotry and prospered. Mexicans in America have done less well. But Mexicans and Cubans are equally Latino and face similar kinds of prejudice. If Cubans have thrived and Mexicans haven't, racism can't possibly be the whole story.
Exactly the sort of provocative, challenging article any university would be proud to publish, right?
Only kidding. Lamm reports that the Source rejected his piece: "too controversial"; then he appealed to the provost, and then the chancellor. They agreed with the editors. Too controversial.
Golly! A journal deciding not to run a controversial article. Censorship at tis worst.
There doesn't seem to be much information available online about The Source, but I was able to find this page. The Source is described as “Denver University's award-winning community newsletter.” It is published not by an academic department, but rather by the Office of Communications and Marketing. This doesn't sound like a journal whose purpose is to hash out difficult sociological issues.
Why aren't there more conservative academics? Because conservatives are far more interested in sriking a martyr's pose than in making a decent argument for their views.