I was reading a recent column by Dana Milbank--and appreciating the snark–when it hit me. Milbank was engaging in (very appropriate) takedown of several Republican high-profile opponents of those snobby American “elites,” and pointing out that all of them turn out to be privileged White male members of that same elite.
But the column brought to mind an even more annoying hypocrisy than the one Milbank was highlighting–the persistent Republican attacks on higher education for “indoctrinating” students with liberal ideas–accusations leveled by individuals who clearly escaped that supposedly inescapable indoctrination.
The charge has always been bogus, of course, for a number of reasons. As someone who taught at a university for more than 20 years, I can attest to the fact that just imparting facts–let alone inculcating ideologies at odds with those the student came with–is a lot harder than it looks. For that matter, the opportunities for “indoctrination” are pretty limited. As a recent column from the Palm Beach Post put it, most courses have nothing to do with social policy or politics. There’s no potential for “indoctrination” in algebra, construction management or chemistry.
The United States has thousands of small colleges and universities, many of them quite religious, that are less frequently accused of planting “socialist” predilections in their students than the Ivy League, elitist, hard-to-get-into universities. What about those hotbeds of “woke” philosophies? That’s where the indoctrination is occurring–right?
Um…not so much. Milbank brings the evidence.
He quotes Senator Tom Cotton who, during the confirmation hearings, said he “doesn’t want a justice who follows the “views of the legal elite,” (would that mean rejecting a nominee who pledges to follow precedent?) and later complaining that “a bunch of elite lawyers” such as nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson “think that sentences for child pornography are too harsh. I don’t and I bet a lot of normal Americans don’t, either.”
And where was this representative of “normal Americans” educated? Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
Then there’s Louisiana’s John Neely Kennedy, who routinely attacks the evil “managerial elite” of media, academics, bureaucrats and corporations. (Typical accusation: “This cabal think they are smarter and more virtuous than the American people.”) This “man of the people” has a “degree with first class honors from Oxford University (Magdalen College),” and was Phi Beta Kappa at Vanderbilt. That was before he got elected by denouncing the “goat’s-milk-latte-drinkin’, avocado-toast-eating insider’s elite.”
Of course, we already know about Ted (“Do you know who I am?”) Cruz–who Bret Stephens recently described as a” one-man reminder of why sentient people hate politicians.” He graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law, and regularly inveighs against the “coastal elites.”
We’ve also seen more than enough of Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, formerly of Stanford University and Yale Law School. Hawley, as Milbank reminds us, fancies himself standing with the proletariat in “the great divide” between the “leadership elite and the great and broad middle of our society.”
Cruz, Hawley and Cotton are all contemplating presidential runs — where they might meet in the Republican primary another man of the people, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A graduate of Yale and Harvard Law, he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Don’t Trust the Elites,” and he rails routinely about “elites” trying to shove this or that “down the throats of the American people.”
Milbank has a number of other examples, and students of stunning hypocrisy will find his column well worth reading in its entirety. Whether you focus on the humbug of men who are obviously part of the “elite” pretending to be “just folks” or whether–like me–you ponder the abject failure of schools like Harvard, Yale and Stanford to properly indoctrinate these strutting peacocks, a couple of conclusions are inescapable.
First, institutions of higher education are rather obviously failing to turn out graduates who’ve been successfully indoctrinated with a liberal philosophy. (For that matter, they don’t seem to be doing all that well instilling civility and simple honesty…Perhaps we should acknowledge that both sets of values come from a variety of sources outside the classroom.)
Second, despite how ridiculous they sound to many of us, these men aren’t stupid. They are promoting policies that they clearly know to be dangerous and unfounded, and they are asserting “facts” that they just as clearly know to be out-and-out lies.
Stupidity is unfortunate, but inescapable and thus forgivable. A willingness to prostitute oneself for electoral advantage, a willingness to undermine democracy in order to appeal to an ignorant, frightened and angry GOP base– is not.