As a proud intellectual and member of the (online) media, the last eight years have disturbed me. At one time, intellectualism and journalism were useful tools for investigation and truth-seeking. But since the arrival of President George H. W. Bush and his particularly polarizing style of governance, intellectualism and the media have been branded tools of the Left.
This is dangerous and horrifying. By rejecting the merits of intelligence and critical thinking, by rejecting the benefits of investigative journalism and mainstream media outlets, Republicans have forced themselves into a defensive stance of reactionism and subjective truth. Excusing the media as slave to the Left means that traditional methods of fact-checking get thrown out the window. Suddenly, the President no longer needs to give answers to the press. The ones he does give don’t need to fit with the questions. If the media is biased towards the Left, then why bother interacting with them?
The Republican Party has forced itself down this path, at great consequence to the intellectual integrity of this country. The costs have been disquieting: The rift between truth and Republic party advocates are vast. Press conferences are allowed to be preposterous and nonsensical. People are fed information so inane that ludicrous statements are plausible and believable. Suddenly, asking specific questions becomes “gotcha journalism.”
The rise of Sarah Palin stands as the crowning achievement of this anti-intellectual and anti-media movement. As Andrew Sullivan puts it, the choice of Sarah Palin is “a farce.” Palin represents the proudly ignorant, uninformed mass who’d rather spout unfounded hackneyed vomit than navigate through complex, nuanced ideas. Partisan hacks exist, and will forever exist, on both sides of the political spectrum. But they have always served as a cheering squad, never amounting to more than icing on a moderate, reasonable party-platform cake.
The current Republican Party is different. Sarah Palin and the campaign of John McCain are dangerous to this country. David Brooks of The New York Times recalls that conservatism was once a highly intellectual movement. Contemporary conservative thinkers lament this shift; it has been a primary reason for prominent conservatives—Colin Powell, Ken Adelman, Francis Fukuyama, Christopher Buckley—to support Barack Obama. The list of conservatives hesitant to embrace McCain is even larger.
I’m confident that most of the U.S. will reject the current Republican Party. I think people have watched the campaigns with honest, careful skepticism. Despite a tremendous guard against free press (no press conferences!), Americans have realized that Sarah Palin could not possibly be fit for potential presidency. Garrison Keillor criticized the selection of Sarah Palin:
It was dishonest, cynical men who put forward a clueless young woman for national office… hoping she could skate through two months of chaperoned campaigning, but the truth emerges: The lady is talking freely about matters she has never thought about. The American people have an ear for B.S.
The Republican Party, in its current vacuous form, is a movement filled with half-truths and stereotypes. Barack Obama is a terrorist, or a socialist. Democrats are communists. These are common statements all propagated by the Right. It doesn’t help that Sarah Palin readily embraces them all. The problem with rejecting intellectualism and the media is that you retreat from facts and new ideas. By rejecting reality, conservatives are locking themselves in a hothouse, talking only at each other and reinforcing points made a thousand times already. From their hothouse, the mainstream media appears absurd and untrue. But we know that they are wrong.
Barack Obama is everything that McCain’s campaign and Sarah Palin are not. He is highly educated, exceptionally intelligent, and a former academic. He is nuanced and deliberative. His campaign has been fundamentally different, emphasizing a steady—and sometimes boring—march towards the White House. But if nothing else, Obama has been grounded in reality. The GOP and John McCain have let loose the power of partisan attacks in an attempt to immolate the country into an angry civil war about “true” America. It has led to insanity like this.
Barack Obama has managed a campaign that is, by and large, transparent and cooperative with the media. His commercials have been thoughtful and intelligent. Even at the height of anti-Palin criticism, Obama said that judgment should be left to voters. His interviews and plans have depth. He does not rely on partisanship. John McCain’s campaign has been a horrifying display of Putin-esque media denial. People should be angrier about this. People should be angrier about Sarah Palin. The McCain campaign (and the Republican Party) are having a shouting match against the moderate, reasonable and thinking people in this country. They are cannot understand how the U.S. has turned against them, and thus brand the majority of Americans as anti-American. Perhaps if the Republican Party again embraced the entirety of America, not just a mythologized, anti-intellectual Joe Six-pack caricature, it could grasp the diversity of opinion in this country. Attacks against intellectualism and the media only do our country a disservice, and provide a surefire way for Republicans to become irrelevant.