As required class reading, I am tempted to assign to George F. Will an essay in December's American Conservative written by former Reagan economic adviser and Republican apostate Bruce Bartlett, called "Revenge of the Reality-based Community." In it, Bartlett chronicles his excommunication from the conservative movement for the unpardonable offense of thinking for himself.
Will might benefit from the outside reading considering that in the Washington Post he once again delivers a broadside against one of his favorite bugaboos - rampant "political correctness" in American academia.
Will has two obsessions in life: Campaign finance laws that restrict the ability of corporations and billionaires to buy America's democracy; and "PC" speech codes that promote multi-culturalism on American college campuses and so constrict the freedom of conservative white guys to say offensive things about racial, ethnic, religious and other "protected" minorities.
One of my favorite George Will lines, which I have quoted many times since I first ran across it as a college sophomore in the introduction of Will's 1978 book, Pursuit of Happiness and Other Sobering Thoughts, suggests that men and women are biological facts but "ladies and gentlemen are social artifacts, works of political art" who carry within them "the culture that is sustained by wise laws and traditions of civility."
And so, at the end of the day, says Will, "we are right to judge a society by the character of the people it produces," which is why statecraft is, inevitably, "soulcraft."
Either I totally missed the point or the guy who makes tens of thousands of dollars per speech to right wing audiences is unwilling to put his money where his mouth is.
Either way, Will has once again penned a manifesto against college administrators who seek to create a safer and more hospitable culture for all their students, regardless of background, based on the very same traditions of civility that a younger George Will once celebrated.
And so, college professors and administrators who Will once wittily disparaged as a "herd of independent minds" he now menacingly equates to a totalitarian "mob."
In his column, Will goes to exquisite lengths to illustrate how average, hard-working Americans (read: Republicans) are harassed by academic officiousness. Will champions the plight of Keith John Sampson, a middle-aged student who five years ago was working his way through college as a janitor when suddenly he was found guilty of racial harassment by the school's PC Thought Police.
Sampson was "convicted" (whatever that meant since the punishment was not mentioned) for "openly reading a book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject." The book, Notre Dame vs. the Klan, celebrated the 1924 defeat of the Ku Klux Klan in a fight with Notre Dame students but it's cover was deemed offensive by Sampson's fellow students since it depicted a Klan rally from long ago.
Will laughs hysterically at other examples of political correctness he considers to be absurd, such as: prohibiting the use of campus e-mail to forward political humor/commentary that might be offensive; banning the use of the Internet to "annoy or otherwise inconvenience" anyone; proscriptions against "verbal harm" from damaging "assumptions" or "implications;" the "freedom from indignity of any type;" the outlawing of "patronizing remarks;" the forbidding of "inappropriately directed laughter;" the sanctioning of "sexism," including "the perception" of a person "not as an individual, but as a member of a category based on sex."
Okay, let's stipulate from the start that all bureaucracies are stupid and attempts to systematize the behavior of 18 to 22-year olds constitutionally conditioned to defy conformity are certain to end badly. Further, giving too much power to little people with little minds invites excesses which cannot be excused when that power is exercised in predictable and despicable ways.
Given time I am sure we could all assemble evidence to prove all bureaucracies, all organizations, all governments are a nuisance.
Having said that, this is not the point George Will wants to make. Instead, Will argues that codes of conduct adopted by college administrators to sanction conduct that treats minorities as second class citizens puts America on a slippery slope to the Gulag.
Since "liberals are most concentrated and untrammeled on campuses," says Will, we should look to colleges and universities for evidence of the damage liberals would do to American freedoms if "given the opportunity."
Curtailment of culturally-insensitive behavior, says Will, is "a natural augmentation of censorship." And the very next step, he insists, is "mob rule."
What happens on campus does not stay on campus because censorship has "downstream effects," says Will, quoting a sociologist whose data Will says demonstrates that "those with the highest levels of education have the lowest exposure to people with conflicting points of view." And this, he says, encourages "the human tendency to live within our own echo chambers."
As George Will is wont to say: "Gracious!"
Once upon a time there existed a George Will who worried about the slow-motion barbarism these "politically-correct" speech codes are meant to arrest and who recognized these codes are also an important barricade which stands between a culture that prizes civility and another that fabulously rewards those who use the public airwaves to call women whose ideas they dislike: "sluts."
I confess. When I was young and ideologically reckless I too believed that the assault against "political correctness" was a righteous cause to end ideological bullying and censorship of all kinds. It wasn't until much later, after right wing conservatism had become politically triumphant, that I recognized complaints against PC thinking were really just another way for conservatives to shame liberals into unilateral disarmament so that conservatives could then create their own monopoly over what people thought and said.
Bruce Bartlett is one of those conservatives whose motto might be: "I have met the enemy and he is us."
A man of impeccable Republican credentials, Bartlett found himself "adrift, politically and intellectually" during the George W. Bush years as he began to take a much more critical view of the policies enacted by this Republican administration and Congress.
When some of those criticisms of Republicans found their way into Ron Suskind's article in New York Times Magazine that famously coined the phrase "the reality-based community," Bartlett braced himself for an onslaught of negative reaction from his conservative friends.
It never came. Instead, Bartlett discovered none of his friends on the right had even read it. In fact, they never read the New York Times or cared what it had to say about anything because they viewed America's newspaper of record "as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well."
Some of Bartlett's conservatives friends were even indignant he suspected them of reading "a left-wing rag such as the Times."
Bartlett announced himself "flabbergasted." Until that moment, he said, "I had not realized how closed the right-wing mind had become. Even assuming that my friends' view of the Times' philosophy was correct, which it most certainly was not, why would they not want to know what their enemy was thinking?"
Bartlett said that was his first exposure to what has been called "epistemic closure" among conservatives - the idea of conservatives "living in their own bubble where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction."
Bartlett's employers, however, were not so dim-witted or forgiving. Not only was Bartlett fired from his job at a conservative think tank, but word came down from Fox News that his books were "to receive no publicity whatsoever, not even attacks."
The Cone of Silence extended to all parts of the Murdoch empire, says Bartlett, as reporters and editors of the Wall Street Journal were also instructed never to mention Bartlett in the future as Bartlett was to receive the same silent treatment given "other dissident conservatives" such as David Frum and Andrew Sullivan.
The Rubicon was crossed when Bartlett refused to label President Obama "a leftist" but insisted instead the President was "barely a liberal."
It was only because the political spectrum has moved so far to the right, said Bartlett, and moderate Republicans "are now considered hardcore leftists by right-wing standards today," that President Obama is not assigned his proper place along the historically-accurate political spectrum, which is: "center-right."
"The blind hatred" that conservatives felt for Obama was the straw which finally broke the camel's back as Bartlett said he was pushed away from "allies and comrades" and every friend he'd ever had on the right.
"Some have been known to pass me in silence at the supermarket or even to cross the street when they see me coming," said Bartlett. "People who were as close to me as brothers and sisters have disowned me."
George Will can try his best to counter perceptions that intellectual rigor mortis has set in on the right. He can also take his even more ossified complaints against liberal "political correctness" out of cold storage.
But more clear-eyed Republicans like Bruce Bartlett see today's conservatism for what it is: a movement in decline, trapped by its own "PC thinking," condemned to ever-diminishing influence in American politics since it is incapable of "serious introspection" and disinclined to rethink or rehabilitate either its philosophy or its strategy.