Liberal Bubbles and Conservative Intellectuals

Nicholas Kristoff explains once again that liberals need to hear from conservatives. Our thinking is clearer when we confront counter-arguments and alternatives, he says, and cites Cass Sunstein’s research on the decisions of three-judge panels. He’s worried about the dangers of the Trump Administration, but apparently thinks you could vote for Trump and be happy that he won on grounds other than racism or bigotry, though he doesn’t even try to offer an explanation of what those alternatives might be or why they are much different in practice from racism and bigotry. He is particularly worried that universities are bubbles of liberalism.

Kristoff doesn’t seem to grasp the difference Rayne noted in a comment here between a liberal education and liberal politics. Liberal education merely means that we have a free and open discussion of facts and the lessons and conclusions to be drawn from facts. Liberal politics has to do with social and economic fairness.

But, campuses are full of conservative politics. As we saw here with Amanda Delekta and her College Republicans, there are conservative students at the University of Michigan! Talk to the ROTC crowd, which cuts across college majors, and you’ll find plenty of conservative students. And there are plenty of politically conservative academicians. Just check out the engineering and business schools. Or the economics department at most colleges and universities.

Kristoff sort of recognizes this when he points to Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health and a committed Evangelical Christian. What Kristoff doesn’t say is whether Collins believes in evolution or geology. In his list of conservative thinkers, which I put at the end, he doesn’t mention whether any of them believe in evolution or science generally or whether they are Birthers or Sandy Hook Truthers or followers of Alex Jones. Let’s assume that they all passed this simple test.

But each of them is happy to ride to power on the coattails of those willing to feed the Republican base a constant dose of lies and distortion. Each of them apparently believes that a little racism is a small price to pay for tax cuts for the filthy rich. Each of them seems to believe that science denying is a reasonable price to pay to cut coal plant emission regulations, or that foolish arguments about the national debt justify killing Medicare or ending Social Security. Each of them participated willingly in, or at best, kept quiet about, the 25 year long phony assault on Hillary Clinton, from White Water to emails, from killing Vince Foster to Benghazi. Each of them is willing to put their favorite conservative goal ahead of a decent society.

Kristoff says I should listen to them respectfully, even as they ignore or support the lies and deception that bring them to political prominence.

I’ll make a deal with Kristoff. When his conservatives loudly and publicly denounce the Republican tactics of fire-hosing crackpot ideas and conspiracy theories at their base and at the nation generally, and when they start trying to win a battle of ideas in accordance with normal practice in those campus bastions of liberality, then I’ll take them seriously.

Here’s Kristoff’s list of conservative twitter feeds: @DouthatNYT, @MJGerson, @StephensWSJ, @JoeNBC, @peggynoonannyc, @reihan, @Arthurbrooks, @ayaan, @eliotacohen, @Heritage, @danielpipes, @nfergus, @allahpundit, @charlescwcooke, @michaelbd, @SonnyBunch, @asymmetricinfo, @cathyyoung63, @KellyannePolls, and @jasonrileywsj.

15 replies
  1. martin says:

    Sonsabitch! Ed, I’m certainly no fan of economics and it’s offshoots. Hell, I’m a 72 year old working class curmudgeon who has spent his life witnessing..Korea, Vietnam..etc etc infanitum. But I have to admit, this post has made me a fan of your views. Reason.. logic. Facts. Experience. Travel. Asking questions around the planet and more. Keep it up. I’ve finally come to value your insights. Thanks.

  2. martin says:

    btw, in respect to your own mentioning here of Hanna Arendt, who because of my lack of education, I never knew who she was, I finally become aware of her contribution to understanding what is taking place in Amerika today.  I wouldn’t have even read this article if it weren’t for you. Thank you again.

    I don’t even know how your own personal constructs of the world at large intersects with her view, but at least you injected her name and works in the context of emptywheel.  I thank you for expanding my world view.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Thanks. I like Arendt. I read Eichmann in Jerusalem a number of years ago, and reread it about 15 years ago as part of a larger personal project of coming to grips with the notion of “evil”. I was fascinated by her explanation and discussion of the banality of evil. I began to think that the worst kind of evil is setting up social structures and institutions in which other people could be evil without remorse, as the Nazis did. I think that’s what this piece is about. The Republicans and their enablers in the media have set up a system that has evolved to the point that people can enjoy the fruits of racism, bigotry, and loathing for designated scapegoats and not feel the slightest remorse.

  3. emptywheel says:

    Joe NBC? Is he kidding???


    He betrays his ignorance of conservatives with that list–the only one of interest, if you like Neocons, is Eliot Cohen.

    There are plenty of interesting conservatives on Twitter. What he has given is conservative mouthpieces.

    • bmaz says:

      That list is insane. Allahpundit and KellyAnne Conway?? Even Nooners has to be embarrassed to be included with some of them. Jeebus.

  4. bevin says:

    “Liberal politics has to do with social and economic fairness.”

    Historically that has not often been the case. Has there been a Liberal president since Nixon? In terms of economic policy Carter and Clinton were both neo-liberals whose policies destroyed New Deal programmes which did indeed have to do with social and economic fairness.

    18% mortgage rates, the end of welfare in our time, mass incarceration of black people and de-regulating Wall St so that 2008 became inevitable can all be described as classic liberal policies, in the Utilitarian tradition, but hardly as promoting social and economic fairness.

    • Ed Walker says:

      This raises a serious issue with the Democrats, not with the idea of liberalism as I understand it. Carter was an early neoliberal, back when its full implications were uncertain, as we can see from Foucault’s foundational work, The Birth of Biopolitics. Clinton was a full-blown neoliberal, and so is HRC.

      But it’s important to see that the ideals of liberalism are completely separate from the ideas of neoliberalism, with its emphasis on markets and the reductionist view of human nature and of economics.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Facts, if not truth, may have a liberal bias, as opposed to a faith-based one.  But the idea that campuses are liberal hotbeds is as much a myth as that Clinton’s staff trashed the White House before CheneyBush team’s arrival in 2001.  It’s nonsense.  The academy was happy to oblige Truman’s and Eisenhower’s witch hunts.  Cold war universities (Stanford became the epitome) were quick to impose loyalty oaths, as did the major corporations whose funding they sought for endowments and scholarships.  Those continued into the 1970s.

    C. Wright Mills may have obtained tenure at Columbia, Chomsky at MIT, and Zinn at Boston University (but only by exceptionally good timing).  Unable to fire him, BU’s then president, the arch-conservative John R. Silber, scotched Zinn’s raises for his entire career.   Many other Ivy scholars were not so lucky.

    Campus “radicals” held sway on a few campuses in the mid-sixties, Berkeley, Columbia and Cornell famously among them.  They have been long gone, even though Republicans since Reagan have used their sometimes mythic existence and influence as rationales for forcing universities to become more conservative and to adopt business priorities, business organizational structures, and CEO-like decision processes.

    Orwell famously said, “He who controls the past controls the future.  He who controls the present controls the past.”  Universities were a target for forced conservatism for their cultural status and their role in training future leaders.  They were listed as a prime target by Lewis Powell in his famous memorandum for the Chamber of Commerce.  They are especially problematic for neo-liberals because they prize the distinction, as Ralph Nader described it, between learning to believe and learning to think.

  6. seedeevee says:

    “feed the Republican base a constant dose of lies and distortion”

    The Democratic Party takes second to no one in that field.

    Hillary Clinton has had a well deserved beating over her lifetime of political opportunism, financial enrichment, failed policies and non-liberal ideology.

    Just say “Putin, super-predators and NAFTA will makes us all richer (overall)” a few times and you will feel better.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I don’t agree with HRC on many issues. But I don’t think the things you describe can be compared to the bizarre fantasies pushed by the right wing. See this by one of those pushers, Charlie Sykes:

      He admits that the party has done just what I said, accept the lies and crackpot ideas and conspiracy theories, and has pushed them relentlessly. It’s almost like an apology, but there is a strong trace of bitterness at being thrown out by the crazies in the party.

      There is nothing comparable to this in the Democratic Party. Sure, there are conflicting views and inane self-justifications as people try to hold their jobs in the wake of this election, and there is a bit of humbuggery in the neoliberal justifications offered for Obama’s policies, but it isn’t howling at the moon crazy backed up with guns and death threats.

  7. John Casper says:

    Ed, many thanks.

    I always like to point out to phony conservatives–such as Amanda Delekta–that “individual responsibility” isn’t just for liberals.  The “common good” is the bedrock of democratic capitalism.

    The glib Michael Novak is elite when it comes to ignoring the realities of money-manager capitalism. He claims to treasure liberty, while urging government to force birth and oppose same sex marriage. But some of his writings reveal what democratic capitalism is supposed to look like.


    “Its moral-cultural system also has many legitimate and indispensable roles to play in economic life, from encouraging self-restraint, hard work, discipline, and sacrifice for the future to insisting upon generosity, compassion, integrity, and concern for the common good. The economic activist is simultaneously a citizen of the polity and seeker after truth, beauty, virtue, and meaning. The differentiation of systems is intended to protect all against unitary power. It is not intended to protect anyone from a fully integrated personal life.” …. p. 57-58

    Novak quotes Milton Friedmann in his “Free To Chose.”

    “The economic system of democratic capitalism depends to an extra ordinary extent upon the social capacities of the human person. Its system of inheritance respect the familial character of motivation. Its corporate pattern reflects the necessity of shared risks and shared rewards. Its divisions both of labor and specialization reflect the demands of teamwork and association. Its separated churches and autonomous universities reflect the importance of independent moral communities. The ideology of individualism, too much stressed by some proponents and some opponents alike, disguises the essential communitarian character of its system.” p. 94

    Quotes taken from Novak’s “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.”

    He’s borrowing from Adam Smith who emphasized “universal opulence” and a long term approach.

  8. Evangelista says:


    A couple of points and observations to answer questions you express interest in having answers to.

    First, to answer why, or how, one “could vote for Trump and be happy that he won on grounds other than racism or bigotry”. A primary reason one can be happy Trump won, whether he or she voted for him or not, is that for Trump being an outsider, and unloved by the common hunt of Washington, DC vermin, everything he does will be scrutinized, and criticized, its legality and Constitutionality questioned. This would not have been the case with Hillary. She, as a cog of a political machine, elected for being a suitable performer, would be instructed and expected to carry out the given instructions, lawful or not, Constitutional or not (think Executive Orders), pushing the United States more toward a Roman style Imperiality under a Presidential Tyrany. All liberals should be wary of and concerned about this, and pleased that, for whatever the reason, the legality and Constitutionality of what have been being slipped in as accepted practices will be questioned and debated (at last).

    Second, you write “…he [Kristoff] doesn’t even try to offer an explanation of what [the alternatives might be or why they are much different in practice from racism and bigotry”. Trump did not provide support for racism and bigotry, even in the worst and hottest moments of his campaigning. You will disagree, because you were absorbing Democratic Party Machine generated campaign mud-slinging that raved those accusations. you will have to go back to review when the campaigning rhetoric is cold, the battling put behind and objectivity returned (taking a long time this election-cycle). What Trump did that raised the howls was recognize the law of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and allow racists and bigots to express themselves freely, as they are Constitutionally allowed (a great money-saving system, as well as social safety-valve, since, instead of employing an army of covert ops and paying more to snitches, it is only necessary to subscribe to the targets’ publications and mailing lists, then let them send you the information). If you observe Trump in action you will notice that he, himself, responds appropriately when attacked, as demonstrated when an idiot preacher attacked him for talking jobs in a visit to his church, and in the case of the idiot Carrier union leader who attacked Trump, instead of Carrier management, for Trump being not informed that a third of the jobs he was told his concessions would save were never in danger. Liberals, along with everyone with working brains can be pleased to have a President who responds directly and appropriately, differently to the different qualities of idiots who attack inappropriately, instead of mealy-mouthing political platitudes and mumbo-jumbo.

    Third, you state that, “What Kristoff doesn’t say is whether Collins believes in evolution or geology. In his list of conservative thinkers, which I put at the end, he doesn’t mention whether any of them believe in evolution or science generally or whether they are Birthers or Sandy Hook Truthers or followers of Alex Jones.” In regard to Collins, who you note to be “Director of the National Institutes of Health”, whether she believes in “evolution or geology” (or both) is irelevant in the context of her directorship: If you have a heart attack and are taken to the nearest hospital and it happens to be a Seventh-Day Adventist one, or a Roman Catholic one, the hospital’s position on care for heart attack victims is what is appropriate. The sponsoring sect’s position on Creation, birth control, or any other theological point, is irrelevant. The same is the case with all you set forth, from “birther” to “Jones”. All are extraneous and irrelevant.

    Finally, think back to the “Trump Phenomenon” and its meeting the Republican Party. Remember all of those “Republican Candidates”? Remember Trump mowing them down and knocking them out of the way? Remember the Republican Party officials fumbling and stumbling, trying to not fall off altogether while Trump hijacked their party and roared away? Remember Paul Ryan, at best lukewarm, with feet icey-cold and blood froze, fumbling frantically and back-tracking, repudiating Trump and trying to pretend he had been hog-tied and helpless in the trunk, never voluntarily on the Trump bus? Trump’s reaction was “Vote for the guy running against Ryan.” Trump is not a Republican. He stole the party and drove off with it. When he won a race the Republicans swarmed back around to get into the glow, the lights and the limelight, and they have been trying to convince Trump he has responsibilities to the party now, but Trump is Trump, and when he decides to go his next go, he is going to go. the Republicans in the way are going to get run over, the ones behind are going to be left, the ones who want to stay on are going to have to catch as they can and what they can and hold on, or fall off. When Ryan and Pellosi get together in Congress they will be able to start off by comparing party bruises and abrasions that both received from Trump. And both, togetherer are going to be looking for opportunities to return the favors, if he gives them ones.

    Does that help?

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