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December 2, 2015


Recently I responded to a question by a professor on the internet with my opinion on “Why aren’t conservative intellectuals disgusted with the GOP today.” I emailed my response to an old friend for his comment. He is a retired college professor and archivist for a presidential library, and one of the brightest people I know. He sent me the following commentary which, after obtaining his permission to publish it and with light editing for identity purposes, is as follows.

I suspect these conservative intellectuals who remain silent in the face of the challenge posed by the likes of Trump, Carson, Cruz, et al. wish to preserve their anti-liberal credentials by almost any means. I notice Michael Gerson and David Brooks offer some useful criticisms of Trump, for instance, but he is an especially easy target. And even after they appear to be siding with liberals on a particular issue, you can count on them to revert to criticisms of Obama and other liberals as a way of assuring their readers that they have not been seduced by the other side.

To me, Jonah Greenberg and Krauthammer fail the test for an intellectual, and I don’t know what has happened to George Will, whose column has long been missing in the Kansas City Star. The old adage of “follow the money” probably is part of the reason for the silence of conservative intellectuals in the public press, because if moderates such as Gerson and Brooks begin to sound consistently like liberals, they no longer will be given and paid for space in newspapers like the Star, which feels a need to show some heed to the right wing to hold on to a subscriber audience from that rather sizable demographic.

Besides its emphasis on rationality, what defines an intellectual is not always clear. The Webster dictionary puts emphasis on the degree of intelligence involved, apparently as measured in an IQ test, and on rationality as opposed  to will and feeling. My impression from graduate courses on intellectuals in history is that to be an intellectual, one must find pleasure in dealing with ideas, especially those ideas that have most affected national and world history. The intellectual seeks to understand ideas that may or may not become established ideologies. What comes first, in my mind, is that an intellectual must have a deep immersion in history and the study of both individual human thinkers and human institutions.

No human being is infallible, but an intellectual is one who seeks widely and deeply for the truth. In short, he seeks wisdom. He rises above self interest, and refuses to become a propagandist for any ideology that is dehumanizing. My idea of an intellectual is that he also has values that reflect a strong ethical and moral sensibility. He is not simply a kind of mathematical genius with a computer-like mind.

I think that in trying to understand the “conservative” intellectual, we also have to consider and analyze the values that this type of thinker adopts and reflects in his writing. This is where the silent conservative is most vulnerable. For instance, what kind of ethic or value does he reveal in his opposition to affordable health care for all Americans? Or is his opposition to a tax code based on national need and ability to pay?

I could go on, perhaps ramble on, but these comments come to mind as I reflect on your question. To use a metaphor, keep rattling the cage of those on the conservative side who remain silent on what is happening to a party that has played an important role in our history since the Civil War period. (END)

I think the reading of the foregoing discussion by an individual who is himself a professor and an intellectual gives us new insights into why conservative intellectuals are not attacking the GOP’s failures in calling out the Trumps and Cruzes and other such candidates of their party with their fantasy visions of America’s future. I agree with all of his insights (though I don’t pretend to be an intellectual) and would add that the Republican Party’s candidates and their intellectual base of supporters apparently think they must remain silent (i.e., not tell it like it is when they under a duty to come clean to voters) for fear of alienating a large bloc of angry voters in a politics first, truth last exercise.

I think silence when under a duty to speak amounts to political malpractice and cover up and that failure to speak up against the loonies of any party running for president disqualifies candidates who are silent from holding office. Thus if they don’t have enough moral fiber and intestinal fortitude to speak up in a race for nomination to office, how can we expect them to perform if elected and face a Putin, a Netanyahu, ISIS, banks too big to fail et al.? Consider, for instance, Carson vs. Putin, or a discussion President Carson might have with the Egyptian president about the use of pyramids as granaries rather than tombs for ancient pharaohs, or a discussion President Trump would have with the Mexican president on paying for a wall to be built between the two countries. These are not policy issues; those who hold or pretend to hold such views of what they will do if elected need time on the couch, not accession to the Oval Office. Where are you, conservative intellectuals? Backbone, anybody?

I have some more questions. Will fear, politics and campaign contribution-seeking triumph over the interests of ordinary Americans, as it does now in the thinly-disguised Republican payoffs to the rich and investment class at the expense of the rest of us? Whatever happened to the statesmen in that party (which has had some good ones in years past)? Where are they, and to reiterate, where are the conservative intellectuals in that party (who aren’t running for anything but space in publications and fees for speaking engagements)? Are there any patriots around in the Republican Party, or have fear, greed and ego totally supplanted reason? Is that party on the verge of disintegration like the Whig Party from which it arose in 1854 since its members have no common governing theme and its candidates have resorted to yelling and misinformation rather than a sober discussion of the real issues confronting America and its people? Compare what voters are hearing these days from the Republican Party’s candidates for president with the Gettysburg Address given by another Republican, Abraham Lincoln. The contrast between greatness and what these political pygmies spew forth could not be more striking.

My distinguished professor friend and presidential library archivist has put his finger on some of the problems in having conservative intellectuals speak out, and it appears they may have themselves concluded that silence is golden in order to pursue their own status in the business, including  their “golden” economic status. Thus unencumbered by callouts from either conservative intellectuals or fellow candidates, we voters are implored to vote for a candidate who can scream loudest and slander and defame best and build walls and bully the world etc. Speaking for myself – never!    GERALD     E


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