IN THE MARCH 4 New Yorker, Aaron Sorkin, executive producer of NBC'S The West Wing, referred to President Bush as a "bubblehead." The ensuing flap found commentators across the political spectrum cast in familiar roles: liberals deriding conservatives as dumb, ignorant boors and conservatives deriding liberals as egg-headed, arrogant elitists.
Each side in this shouting match often seems determined to live down to the other's Stereotype of itself--even though, in fact, the relationship between conservatism, intellect, and even intellectual elitism is infinitely more complex than the simple dichotomy implies.
For an excellent sample of the liberal mindset on this question, examine "Brain Drain," an essay by Mark Crispin Miller in the online journal Context. Miller is fresh from the traumatic experience of promoting his book The Bush Dyslexicon, a highly unflattering assessment of the 43rd president, in post-September 11 America. He laments that our civic culture is awash in rabid anti-intellectualism promoted by the right-wing establishment.
His evidence includes the fact that the Fox News
Channel's Bill O'Reilly told him he was "misguided, as many, many academics are these days" and Fox Chairman Roger Ailes' comment that "what people deeply resent out there are those in the 'blue' states thinking they're smarter."
To Ailes, Fox News reflects "a touch" of that resentment. Miller also cites some obscene hate e-mail he has received from Bush supporters and some short, crude attacks on left-of-center books posted under the guise of "reader reviews" (e.g., "I have never read another book so full of bullshit") at the Amazon and Barnes & Noble Web sites.
One can make many points in response to Miller's broadside. Vitriolic reviews at online booksellers are hardly the doing of right-wingers alone; books by conservatives such as David Horowitz, or Bill O'Reilly for that matter, get the same treatment. One could also note that Miller unintentionally validates Ailes' remark about the smugness of liberal elites when he jeers at the "half-educated viewers" of Fox News. And he himself acknowledges that the right's anti-academic prejudice does not extend to conservative academics, from Henry Kissinger to Condoleeza Rice.
In Miller's view, of course, these academics are not true intellectuals but mere cheerleaders for the powers that be. Indeed, it seems that for him the only legitimate intellectuals are on the left. He ends his essay by asserting that in...