by Victor Davis Hanson
The Professors Are In Charge
We are being run by the mindset of the faculty lounge, as if the philosophy or English department has taken over running the country. Let me adduce some random examples.
Tax proposals in haywire fashion are thrown out almost every day from various Obamians, as if at a faculty bull session over coffee. Can we count them all — much less can small businesses plan to hire a worker when they don’t know how much more they will shortly owe the government?
Here is what we hear from Barack Obama: a restoration of the death tax. Trial balloons for a national sales tax or a VAT. How high will capital gains hikes go? Rates are to go back to or beyond (?) the Clinton income tax schedules? Was the cap to come off income exposed to the full FICA bite, and was it to be set at $150,000, $200,000, or $250,000? What exactly is the new healthcare surcharge? And when and if these federal income hikes are added to the states’ raises in state income, property, and sales taxes, what will the aggregate tax bite be? Does anyone know? Do any of these guys care how “they” are going to make enough money to pay “us”?
Match that tax uncertainty with a weird financial policy. Are Americans really saving more or is the new thrift simply a result of skipping out on mortgages and maxed out credit cards that has resulted in less collective debt —the banks eating the loss quite well by paying depositors about 1% on their savings while lending out at 6% and more, or having the government cover their bad debts? Are we not seeing a massive transfer of wealth as retirees and savings holders are getting nothing — or rather less than nothing when inflation is factored in — on their money, while debtors pay little in interest and now find class sympathy by not honoring their obligations? Is not the person who borrowed, spent, and defaulted now seen as the better American than those who saved, paid on time, and passed something on to their children? It’s as if the economics and political science departments now set policy.
Let me review the progress of the last two years, because the national mood reminds me of the free speech area at any California university where groups segregate by race while their professors celebrate “diversity.”
We had a green czar who claimed that whites pollute the ghetto and are more likely to be mass murderers. Our attorney general called the nation one of “cowards” for not holding racial conversations on his terms. He has no interest in trying Black Panthers who disrupted voting, but a great deal in trying the architect of 9/11 in a civilian courtroom, replete with Miranda rights, in Manhattan a few hundred yards from Ground Zero.
The Black Caucus, stung by serial charges against its members of corruption, wishes to prune back the House Ethics Committee as we now know it, presumably because it is “racist” as a bad messenger of inconvenient tidings.
The president came to the defense of a shrieking Harvard professor (not much going on in the world elsewhere) by claiming the police acted “stupidly” and characteristically stereotyped the non-white. Our new Supreme Court justice believes race and gender inherently make people smarter, or in her words a “wise Latina” is often a better judge than the old white guys who dominate the courts.
The doyen of the White House press corps, a liberal icon with a front-row seat at briefings, wishes not just that Israel disappear but that the Jews go back to Poland and Germany — and wins praise from Hezbollah and “sympathy” from her peers in DC.
Our governors of Massachusetts and New York allege their own unpopularity is due to racism — in the manner apparently unlike a most unpopular California governor who earned bad polls on his own.
To suggest that the president should not have said “kick ass” or “bring a gun to a knife fight” or “get in their face” or “tear up” a talk show host is to traffic in anti-black stereotypes.
Note the “no more disown Rev. Wright,” clingers of Pennsylvania, and “typical white person” of the campaign led to the above, just as the above in the next two years will lead to even more — given that our president has always sensed that racial identity politics is a sanctuary for setback and an embryo for career promotion.
Are the ethnic studies departments running the country?
Here is a perversity: almost every rascal-like head of state that this president has decided to use “reset button” diplomacy on is unfortunately now more hostile. He made a big splash of sending a video and greetings to Ahmadinejad, who seems perhaps more bellicose than ever. Chavez was courted, but he now sounds like a Bush is back in the White House. Recall the much ballyhooed trip to Turkey — why then the present Turkish response? The outreach to Syria and the missiles to Hezbollah — why did Assad do that after we were so nice? And why is not Mr. Putin appreciative of our kind words? Why does he not help us with the Iranian problem? Maybe all those new hundreds of millions of borrowed dollars to the Palestinians will at least change their opinion of us?
Who is a friend, who an enemy? Rule of thumb: if you liked the U.S. between 2001-8 (e.g., Britain, Colombia, the Czech Republic, India, Israel, Poland, the former Soviet republics), something was wrong with your illiberal, pro-Bush stance. But if you pretty much despised America (e.g., Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria, Venezuela), then we sort of sympathize with your former antipathy (we shared it too), and so now want to reach out and expand our common ground.
Crises, then, originate because of miscommunication and being not nice, not out of fundamental differences in belief about the way nations organize the economy, politics, or social and cultural life. Diplomacy and good intentions, not deterrence and military preparation, persuade bad actors to behave. Excuse me! — there are no bad actors, just misunderstood ones who have translated their understandable post-imperial, post-colonial grievances into anti-Americanism. They need to be contextualized rather than confronted.
When we look at the growing darkness in the word over the last two years — Turkey as the new Sultanate, Israel soon to be threatened by a nuclear Iran and new missiles in Syria and among Hezbollah, North Korea promising a fiery Seoul, Europe disintegrating, Russia sensing that Eastern Europe and its former republics are without U.S. support with Putin cat-smiling over the missing canary, China not wanting to lend more to extend our welfare state whose entitlements already surpass its own, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela all eager to remake Latin America into a socialist, pro-Iranian paradise (this list could be vastly expanded) — we see at least some wages of half-baked utopianism and tactical “I hate Bush” bromides in lieu of a serious foreign policy. This is diplomacy practiced along the lines of the peace and conflict resolution program.
Faculty Lounge Wisdom
OK — Washington seems to run now along the logic of the faculty lounge. But let me explain the rules of Lala-Land. Some of you were not academics for 21 years. No problem, you can easily imagine what the worldview is on campus — given that after six years on the job you cannot be fired except for felony conviction (and even that is problematic). After tenure a failure to publish and awful teaching evaluations mean nothing. “Post-tenure review” has the teeth of a U.N. investigation.
The in-class work week is about 6-8 hours. You toil at school 32 weeks a year. A hyphenated or exotic name often brings career rewards. Liberalism is defined by accentuating gender and racial differences, not ignoring them.
Peer review and faculty governance adjudicate talent, and academic senate votes resemble the margins of Saddam’s old plebiscites.
Status is predicated on university affiliations, the more Ivy League the better; an Ohio State professor with 10 successful books is always judged a failure in comparison to a brilliant Princeton professor with two “seminal” articles. The more one covets academic status, the more one deplores the unfair social divides in America.
Money is as despised in the abstract as it is pursued in the concrete. No one has run a business, worked much in dead-end, physical labor, or felt economic disaster when the economy went south. Tragedy instead for those who make it on the academic gravy train is the absence of an automatic pay increase, a refused sabbatical, or a hiring freeze. Academics damn Wal-Mart’s exploitation, but count on part-timers to work for a third of their own salaries for the same work — and thereby subsidize their own aristocratic perks. The PhD is felt the equivalent of an MD or MBA, and so leisured contemplation focuses on why less well spoken doctors and CEOs cruelly and so unfairly make so much more than far smarter professors.
I’ll stop for a breath. You get the picture. We are being run by former academics or career politicians and bureaucrats who rely on academic wisdom — note the response to the Gulf slick, the Iranian bomb, or the rising deficits. Obama’s key 500 appointees, like himself, have little experience in commerce, business, law, medicine, or the military, but lots of experience in the academic revolving door.
When I would go to department meetings, get coffee, or see faculty at receptions, I could never quite understand the aberrant mental processes. There was never a connection between our salaries and the source of wealth generated to pay them. Taxes could be limitless, because a Michelle’s proverbial “they” had far too much money anyway, and so spent their lucre on needless things like jet skis and SUVs. Better for the university to have it and spread it around wisely.
Foreigners were usually smarter than Americans, mostly because they took the train and were without a Ram pickup in their garages. Fright surrounded things like flipping back the circuit breaker or unplugging the sewer line under the house; more mysterious were the grubby folk who didn’t eat arugula and were called in to conjure up a fix to these bothersome distractions.
Ambiguity in speech, not clarity was preferred; the ability to adduce ten different points of view was always considered superior to deciding on one. Tantrums, the occasional obscenity, the knife-in-the-back memo always assumed a sort of rule that such rascality never earned a punch in the face; the art was to be as cruel as possible without resort to violence. Yet when gut-check time came to vote openly yes or no and take the consequences, most voted present by skipping out or abstaining.
The white male Midwestern student without money or connections was to be pitied and ignored as a loser as much as was the discriminated black student of the 1940s and 1950s. The more constructed identities the better — I remember the female, gay, half-black administrator achieving a rare “threefer” and soaring through the state university system cursus honorum.
The perverse was always preferred to the logical: so a Mao was better than a Churchill, Lincoln was faulted for not possessing 1999-era academic sensitivity, and FDR not WWII saved the economy from further depression. Versailles explains Hitler rather than his own insane hatreds. The Soviet and Chinese nightmares were problematic and based on misunderstandings of Marx rather than natural conclusions from him. The real fear after 9/11 is backlash, not more terrorism. The non-Christian nihilist Timothy McVeigh or the Columbine Satanists are proof of widespread Christian terrorism; the last 50 aborted Islamic terrorist plots are aberrations.
If you wonder how our present administration’s attitudes toward business, commerce, taxes, finance, race, national security and foreign policy now play out, just drop by a local faculty lounge for a few minutes and listen up — America in 2010 will suddenly make sense, and perhaps scare the hell out of you all at once. It all reminds me of the proverbial first-semester college student who returns home at Thanksgiving to his near-broke parents to inform them of all the “new” things he’s learned at university.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson