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Comments by YACCS
Monday, November 29, 2004

How to succeed at hackwork

gamblin' man. pundit, high slots player and alleged submissive

Juan Cole makes an interesting point about how conservatives benefit from the network of think tanks and political power

Shock of the Week: Liberals in Liberal Arts

George Will's column this week is unusually unreflective. I don't often agree with Will, but he is usually a bright and well-informed columnist on the Reaganaut Right. He knows enough to castigate Justice Scalia for saying that Darwinian evolution is "only a theory" (a theory is a robust explanation well grounded in the evidence); and he knows that the Iraq war has been a disaster from beginning to end.

So it is surprising to see him parroting the ridiculous and pernicious line about major universities having few political conservatives in them.


Exhibit A is William J. Bennet. Bennett has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Texas. If he had been a man of the left, he would be teaching that subject at some small liberal arts college for $70,000 a year. Because he was on the Right, he had an entree to the Reagan administration, and rose to become Secretary of Education and then drug czar.

The vast opportunities open to an intellectual on the Right can be seen in Bennett's career. It is often forgotten that he deserted public service as drug czar after only about a year, leaving all of his commitments unfulfilled. He was able to land at Joe Coors's and Richard Mellon Scaife's so-called American Heritage Foundation. Bennett's opportunities were so many and so lucrative that the hard work of public service, and the ethics rules requiring careful reporting of income, seemed increasingly unappealing. The opportunities are so enormous, if one is willing to oppose affirmative action and support increasing inequality of wealth and bash unions, that it is even hard to keep such persons in high-profile, remunerative public service positions on the Right. They are sucked out of them by the corporate vacuum cleaner.

The next time we meet Bennett, he has somehow made so much money that he can drop $6 million in Las Vegas casinos in a single year (he says he won as much as he lost, which, if true, means he probably cheats). This level of gambling makes him a "whale" in casino terms, given all sorts of perquisites. That is a very different life than teaching in a small liberal arts college, having spent one's youth making in the $20,000s and $30,000s a year (that would have been true of Bennett's generation of academics). And the price of admission to all those riches? Say things like that "homosexuals" have an average lifespan of 42 years, or public education should be privatized, and blame poor people for being poor because they are lazy and immoral and gamble too much.

So, Mr. Will, it is the "pull" factor that explains your conundrum. Liberal academics aren't viciously excluding conservative intellectuals who apply to teach hundreds of students a week for $45,000 a year (nowaday's entry-level salary at a good liberal arts college), after they paid $100,000 for a Ph.D. in English literature from a top-rate university and spent 8 or 9 years beyond the BA toiling away as graduate students on tiny stipends. Conservative intellectuals don't have to put up with that kind of thing (that is how they think of the privilege of teaching). They have other opportunities. They can be whales, and can pontificate on morality to the great unwashed.

As for Wills's argument that academia "has marginalized itself, partly by political shrillness and silliness that have something to do with the parochialism produced by what George Orwell called "smelly little orthodoxies." Many campuses are intellectual versions of one-party nations -- except such nations usually have the merit, such as it is, of candor about their ideological monopolies. " -- it is another instance of blaming the victim.

Academia has not marginalized itself. It has been marginalized. Perfectly reasonable beliefs such as that workers should have a right to explore unionizing without fear of being fired have been redefined by Joe Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife as "out of the mainstream." Thinking that it was a bad idea to invade Iraq (as I said repeatedly in 2002 and early in 2003, even as I admitted Saddam's atrocities) was defined as out of the mainstream and unpatriotic. Corporate media bring in a parade of so-called "experts" (often lacking credentials and saying ridiculous things) from "think tanks," in Washington and New York instead of letting academics speak. (There are some exceptions, obviously, but I am talking about over-all numbers). Wouldn't you like to hear about Ayman al-Zawahiri from someone who actually had read him in Arabic? The universities have such experts. The think tanks mostly just have smelly little orthodoxies of the Right.

posted by Steve @ 10:40:00 AM

10:40:00 AM

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