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Friday, April 02, 2010

"Who Loves Intellectuals -- Democrats or Republicans?"

A National Affairs essay claims that the Republican Party make better use of intellectuals than Democrats:

Who loves intellectuals -- Democrats or Republicans?, by Carlos Lozada, Commentary, Washington Post: As far as perceptions go, a big difference between President Obama and his predecessor comes down to smarts: Obama is brainy, Bush is folksy. The stereotypes extend to the parties, with Ivy League egghead Democrats and tea partying small-town Republicans seeming to inhabit different planets.
But an intriguing National Affairs essay by the Hudson Institute's Tevi Troy shifts the focus, arguing that "Republican presidents actually use intellectuals and allow them to help define presidential agendas, while the Democrats often treat intellectuals as cultural ornaments." Troy is a veteran of the George W. Bush White House...
Democratic presidents, he writes, have a tortured relationship with big thinkers. John F. Kennedy relished his ivory-tower persona and brought in Arthur Schlesinger as an in-house intellectual. But Lyndon Johnson was "uneasy" with liberal intellectuals, Troy writes, while Jimmy Carter's effort to channel historian Christopher Lasch produced the disastrous "malaise" speech of 1979. Bill Clinton, by contrast, courted liberal thinkers, even installing political economist Robert Reich as labor secretary.
On the GOP side, Richard Nixon's top intellectual was disenchanted Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who put conservative thinkers and neocons on the White House radar -- a process that culminated under Reagan, when dozens of conservative intellectuals populated the White House. After George H.W. Bush's disinterest in intellectuals backfired when key conservatives backed Clinton in 1992, his son learned the lesson, establishing a White House office to connect to the world of ideas. ...
And Obama? He can't assume liberal thinkers will love him forever. Some of his moves -- on Guantanamo and the public option -- have already stoked discontent. ...

By the accounting in the article, which presidents courted academics?:

Kennedy - Yes
Johnson - No ("uneasy with intellectuals")
Carter - Yes (but it didn't work out)
Clinton - Yes
Obama - Yes

Nixon - Yes (but led by a disgruntled Democrat)
Reagan - yes
George H.W. Bush - No
Bush II - Yes (but see below)

How does that translate into this?

Republican presidents actually use intellectuals and allow them to help define presidential agendas, while the Democrats often treat intellectuals as cultural ornaments.

As far as Bush II is concerned, I would claim that it was the intellectuals who chose Bush, not the other way around (on the assumption, which appears correct in retrospect, that they could lead him around by the nose once he was elected). So there was a "cultural ornament" involved - but not for Democrats - it was the guy dressed in the cowboy suit.

I will stipulate that Republicans are tied much closer to the intellectual community than they are willing to admit. However, Kennedy, Clinton, and now Obama have used intellectual firepower every bit as effectively as Nixon, in the design of policy and otherwise, and certainly as effectively as Bush II. So I don't get this claim.

How do you see it?

    Posted by on Friday, April 2, 2010 at 03:51 PM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (29)


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