The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.  David Brooks

I’m sure we’ve all noticed an undercurrent of anti-intellectualism developing in the US over the past decade or so.

It’s blatantly expressed on television. Think of My Name is Earle, The Simpsons, et al. 

If you listen carefully, you’ll hear it in the voices of young people who can’t find anything that lights their fire outside their circle of friends and fun, fun and friends.

Anti-intellectualism helped bring George W. Bush to the White House, not once but twice. And, it has elected a myriad under-educated, under-experienced W-wannabees to Congress.  You might call it a non-partisan affliction. 

A disregard for credentials is obvious at polling stations on election day, when a fraction of those registered choose the handful who will make the decisions that steer our lives. 

Is it apathy, ignorance, or delayed rebellion against teachers who made demands on us that prevents us from studying issues -- actually searching out facts -- before we form opinions? 

How do so many people have such strong opinions when it comes to complex economic issues and the intricacies of international conflict and war? Where are people getting their information, when they contradict scientists who warn of global climate change? What books are these people reading?

From what I’ve observed and heard from friends in education, we’re turning out fewer and fewer high school graduates with the skills necessary to pursue university-level  programs in science, technology, economics and foreign affairs. Yet, we’re faced with problems so complex and so dangerous that a person needs a great deal of knowledge in these fields just to comprehend -- let alone solve -- them. 

We’ve gotten so lazy, we let the media do our thinking for us – CNN, Fox, Rush Limbaugh, Air America, it doesn't matter – then claim their opinions as our own. ( 

Add to that the polarization of rich and poor, the shrill and constant staccato of verbal attacks on talk radio and televised talk radio, plus carefully staged events that make it socially acceptable to be hateful and ignorant, and you’ve got the potential for a very serious situation.

Leave it to David Brooks to lay it all out. As you read this, keep in mind that the author is a very perceptive conservative, perhaps the last of his kind.

I will bookend this post with another containing an op-ed from a slightly different perspective, written by Bob Herbert. Taken together, these two pieces should give us reason to pause, then get to work.

from The New York Times
January 5, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
The Tea Party Teens


The United States opens this decade in a sour mood. First, Americans are anxious about the future. Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the country is in decline, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey. Only 27 percent feel confident that their children’s generation will be better off than they are.

Second, Americans have lost faith in their institutions. During the great moments of social reform, at least 60 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing most of the time. Now, only a quarter have that kind of trust.

The country is evenly divided about President Obama, but state governments are in disrepute and confidence in Congress is at withering lows. As Frank Newport of the Gallup organization noted in his year-end wrap-up, “Americans have less faith in their elected representatives than ever before.”

Third, the new administration has not galvanized a popular majority. In almost every sphere of public opinion, Americans are moving away from the administration, not toward it. The Ipsos/McClatchy organizations have been asking voters which party can do the best job of handling a range of 13 different issues. During the first year of the Obama administration, the Republicans gained ground on all 13.

The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.

To continue, click "Read More."
A year ago, the Obama supporters were the passionate ones. Now the tea party brigades have all the intensity.

The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation.

The tea party movement is mostly famous for its flamboyant fringe. But it is now more popular than either major party. According to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 41 percent of Americans have a positive view of the tea party movement. Only 35 percent of Americans have a positive view of the Democrats and only 28 percent have a positive view of the Republican Party.

The movement is especially popular among independents. The Rasmussen organization asked independent voters whom they would support in a generic election between a Democrat, a Republican and a tea party candidate. The tea party candidate won, with 33 percent of independents. Undecided came in second with 30 percent. The Democrats came in third with 25 percent and the Republicans fourth with 12 percent.

Over the course of this year, the tea party movement will probably be transformed. Right now, it is an amateurish movement with mediocre leadership. But several bright and polished politicians, like Marco Rubio of Florida and Gary Johnson of New Mexico, are unofficially competing to become its de facto leader. If they succeed, their movement is likely to outgrow its crude beginnings and become a major force in American politics. After all, it represents arguments that are deeply rooted in American history.

The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country’s problems. Many Americans do not have faith in that sort of centralized expertise or in the political class generally.

Moreover, the tea party movement has passion. Think back on the recent decades of American history — the way the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; the Christian conservatives, the 1980s. American history is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life.

In the near term, the tea party tendency will dominate the Republican Party. It could be the ruin of the party, pulling it in an angry direction that suburban voters will not tolerate. But don’t underestimate the deep reservoirs of public disgust. If there is a double-dip recession, a long period of stagnation, a fiscal crisis, a terrorist attack or some other major scandal or event, the country could demand total change, creating a vacuum that only the tea party movement and its inheritors would be in a position to fill.

Personally, I’m not a fan of this movement. But I can certainly see its potential to shape the coming decade. 



01/06/2010 10:17

I don't think it's anti-intellectualism. I think it's a generalized lack of critical thinking--across the economic and educational spectrum. And it's related to an educational system which places more emphasis on facts and rote than problem-solving, thinking and writing. Too many True/False and Multiple Choice questions, not enough essay and math story-problems.

And this critical thinking deficit isn't a new issue. I saw the symptoms in the late 1980's when I worked with college-graduate trainees in a large regional bank. They could derive financial ratios all day without understanding what the ratios meant about a company's financial health.

Karen Holmgren
01/06/2010 11:09

In the period between my youthful optimism awakened by John Kennedy and 2001 I was mainly oblivious to the politics of this country and the world. But the 9/11 attacks woke me up to a world in pain.

Reading an essay by Dennis Kucinich describing his vision for a world working in harmony for all humanity and all species was an epiphany. Shortly after that I learned about the Earth Charter ( and found my new "religion" in a doctrine that preaches fairness, equality, respect, and responsibility to make the world a better place.

It daily saddens me to watch us, as a nation and as a species, work and speak against our own best interests out of ignorance and fear. It's hard to resist falling into despair at times. But at the same time, there are millions of grassroots organizations worldwide working hard to counter this ignorance and apathy, and that gives me hope. (See Paul Hawken, "Blessed Unrest"

01/07/2010 04:26

Great post, Paula and I agree with you and the other comments. I would like to add that as a psychologist I deal daily with people who appear to have no empathy whatsoever. My training led me to understand development of the self in stages, culminating in abstract thought (see Piaget and Vygotsky for examples of the model). Because of the self becoming saturtated
with 'diversions' in the mid-late teens (materiaistic tendancies brought about by media, branding and lax relationships between parenting and education for example) lots of people appear not to be developing the capacity for critical and empathetic thought. I have oversimplified this here, and yes I do fall into depair. It accounts for much of the shortsighted opinions about climate change which I believe are linked to the self. For example, if people cannot control their own symbiotic, homeostatic system (body)from self destruction (alcohol abause, overeating, smoking won't harm me etc) then how can they hope to understand the symbiotic, homeostatic actions of the planet (Co2, ozone, aerosol won't harm it etc). Or that the world will not end because of climate change, only the human race? It's the 'quick fix' mentality at its worst.

01/07/2010 09:30

For the third time I will try to leave a comment. I tried signing up, but do not have a password and there doesn't seem to be a place to create one. I must be doing something wrong.

I read the two articles and agree with both commentators. The 'radical right' got a foothold during the ultra conservative Reagan administration and have grown stronger as education has declined. There is a correlation between the two.

An educated person knows how to think critically and see through the garbage spewed by the tea party crowd. I hope that we can improve our schools and turn our better educated students.

01/09/2010 00:36

I have not read the article throughout (I will do that later) but I think what Brooks wrote about the US is valid for France and probably many countries in the world. Mediocrity prevails in many domains and it's not due to the far-right as Brooks seems to ascertain. In Montpellier, the people who rule are supposedly socialist. They have just set up a real "consumption temple" (I mean "un temple de la consommation) in Odysseum. The tram stops in the middle of the open-air mall, people get off with their empty bags and return after buying lots of things they don't really need. Meanwhile they have closed down our American Library.

Paula, the funds came from the university, and from the subscription fees and book sales....

Our (French) television programs are terrible. Good programs are shown at 11PM because most people would not understand them.


Leave a Reply