Washington Monthly writer Kevin Drum asked recently whether (I’m paraphrasing) political moderates who are exposed to a lot of left-wing idiocy are likely to become more conservative than they would otherwise be, while those who are subjected to right-wing idiocy are likely to become more liberal.
This seems plausible to me, and especially plausible in the one case with which I’m most familiar: my own. And I’ve encountered a good deal of evidence that my experiences in this regard are far from unique.
Like most people who went to college in the 1980s or 1990s, I was exposed to significant amounts of what came to be known as “politically correct” nonsense, in the form of shamelessly dishonest affirmative action policies, loathsome hate-speech codes, and various forms of left-wing ideology masquerading as scholarship.
And, like a lot of other people who possessed any contrarian impulses or a thimbleful of common sense, I was revolted by this stuff. When I joined a university faculty a few years later, my feelings were, if anything, intensified. There were days when I felt that if I heard one more sanctimonious speech about “diversity” or the unholy trinity of racism-sexism-homophobia, I would go on a tri-state shooting spree, or put a poster of Ronald Reagan on my office wall (I did go so far as to vote for a few Republicans).
Intellectually, I was impressed by various conservative critiques of the failings of post-New Deal liberalism, especially in regard to the legal system. It seemed obvious to me that something like the imposition of a nationally uniform system of very liberal abortion laws through lawsuits was an example of judges imposing their political preferences on everybody else, while fooling themselves into believing that they were merely doing what the Constitution required.
Indeed, I still can’t read the Supreme Court’s plurality opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which Justices Kennedy, O’Connor and Souter call upon the American people to stop arguing about abortion because the Court has “resolved” the issue, without feeling somewhat nauseous.
So how is it that in the last couple of years I’ve ended up getting certainly hundreds and possibly thousands (it’s easy to lose track) of e-mails informing me that I’m a typical leftist professor, who is teaching America’s youth to hate their own country, etc., etc.?
The answer is simple: While left-wing idiocy has by no means disappeared from academia, it has become a trivial matter in comparison to the right-wing idiocy that’s taken over much of the political system during the past five years. And, of course, anyone who points this out will become a target of right-wing rage.
From the depressingly large number of examples that could illustrate this point, I have space to mention only one: the increasingly mainstream respectability of good old-fashioned racism.
For many years, conservative critics made the valid point that academia had too many people in it who were willing to accuse anyone who opposed affirmative action or hate speech codes of “racism.”
Unfortunately, post-Clinton Republican political dominance and post-9/11 anxieties about foreigners have combined with a generation’s worth of often-warranted disgust about irresponsible charges of racism to create an atmosphere in which actual racism is making a very public comeback.
Consider the comments of Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, who in a letter to his constituents last week called for “strict immigration policies” in order to keep Muslims from being elected to public office. Goode was reacting to the election of a Muslim, Keith Ellison, to Congress. Ellison was born in Detroit, but to read Goode’s letter is to realize that people like Goode find it difficult to imagine that Muslims can actually be loyal Americans.
Goode is being lambasted (though not by any prominent Republicans) not because his letter was “politically incorrect,” but because it was racist. Too many people can no longer tell the difference.
(Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu.)