by Bruce S. Thornton
The November presidential election was the favorite topic at the Freedom Center’s West Coast Retreat last weekend. Amidst the prognostications and arguments about which Republican would or should get the nomination, or how pessimistic or optimistic conservatives should be about defeating the President, the personality and motivations of Barack Obama were a constant theme of conversation among participants.
What makes Obama tick? Is it psychological conflict and neuroses created by an absent father, a Muslim stepfather, and a flighty mother addled by Third-Worldism? Is he a Manchurian president, nursing socialist or Islamist agendas? A secret Muslim practicing taqqiya, or a progressive disciple of Saul Alinksy who has finished the Gramscian “long march through the institutions” by occupying the country’s most powerful political post? For me, while all these speculations could explain Obama’s personality and behavior, the answer is simpler: he is the perfect embodiment of the politicized, corrupt university.
That the university is politicized will surprise no reader of FrontPage, but more evidence has just been presented in a report by the California Association of Scholars called A Crisis of Competence. This study of the University of California system confirms what national studies of faculty political preferences have previously learned –– that liberal professors outnumber conservative ones 8 to 1. At the flagship Berkeley campus, ratios are scarier: 10:1 in the hard sciences, 17:1 in the humanities, and 21:1 in the social sciences. And across the system, individual academic departments reveal more lopsided ratios: 29:1 in the Berkeley English department, 31:1 in the Berkeley history department, 29:2 in the UCLA English department, and 53:3 in UCLA history. Are we surprised that the University of California was one of the biggest donors to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, giving more money than even Goldman Sachs?
Given this political bias, it is equally unsurprising that, according to a study by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute, a majority of professors now believe their task should be teaching not basic skills, critical thinking, and foundational information, but how to “become agents of social change.” For example, the “mission statement” of the Berkeley Department of Social Work states that students must be committed to advancing “social justice,” code for redistributionist policies predicated on grievance. Or consider the UC Santa Cruz Sociology Department’s mission statement, which proclaims the need to consider “how society is organized in relationship to a vision of a just, free, and equal society — a vision that may require fundamental social change.” You can bet that “equal” does not mean equality of opportunity but equality of result achieved by the coercive power of the government. And “fundamental social change” is redolent of Obama’s promise five days before the 2008 election that “we will fundamentally change America,” a promise he has unfortunately kept.
All these data show that, as A Crisis of Competence writes, there has been in universities a “sharp shift to the left in recent decades,” with “the characteristic pattern of an even more extreme tilt, amounting almost to exclusion of opposing views, precisely in those departments where it matters most to have the full spectrum of social and political thought.” The goals and policies that Obama has pursued have been consistent with this progressive bias, predicated as they are on the unexamined leftist orthodoxy that rules most universities and can be heard every day in a thousand classrooms: American society is racist, its political institutions are unjust, capitalism is an oppressive, corrupt con that benefits the “1%,” and corporations reap obscene profits from the misery of the working and middle classes and the exploitation of nature and the Third World. Examine Obama’s comments on everything from the Trayvon Martin killing to the Keystone pipeline, from the Israel-Arab conflict to relations with the Muslim world, from Obamacare to high gas prices, and one will find behind his words the ideological doctrines of the leftist professoriate, the received, unexamined wisdom promulgated daily in faculty lounges, classrooms, and conferences.
But there is another dimension of American higher education that illuminates Obama’s character and behavior: the corrupting effects of racial preferences and the liberal racism of low expectations that undergird them. Because Obama is “articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” as Joe Biden said in 2007, that is, a light-skinned black with no trace of ghetto accent or thug swagger, he was the perfect “diversity” applicant for the universities he attended. Thus it was in those institutions’ interests to advance his career whether he deserved such advancement or not. Given the refusal to release his college transcripts or standardized test scores, one suspects that his performance was not quite so stellar, surely not good enough for the subsequent goodies showered on him, such as acceptance to Harvard Law School and the editorship of the Law Review. But his performance in those venues wasn’t the point: his function was to show their “commitment to diversity.” To paraphrase what Archibald MacLeish once said about a poem, Obama wasn’t supposed to do anything, but to “be” black.
As a result of this process, Obama during his university career is unlikely to have been challenged in the way necessary for intelligence to be developed and broadened. All he had to do was mouth the progressive dogma, and he would be advanced far beyond his actual performance. He just had to show up, and white people would do the rest. And this is the tragedy of race preferences made obvious in the failed presidency of Obama: an obviously intelligent, charismatic man never had to confront intellectual challenges, hone his critical thinking skills, and learn discipline through failure. And he was fine, as long as he stayed in the academy or community organizing, both worlds where other people’s money insulate one from failure. But as president, he had to deliver and take responsibility, both of which he has refused to do. Instead, he delegates to aids and Congress, and then blames anybody and everybody for the consequences of the flawed policies. And like the typical professor, he politicizes everything, demonizing those who challenge him with question-begging epithets and ad hominem attacks.
So if you want the key to Obama’s character, look to the universities that created him, the media that slavishly serve him, and most of the voters who elected him. In other words, Obama represents a failure in our educational system that extends much, much farther than one president’s administration.
©2012 Bruce Thornton