Tim Stanley: The Tea Party Isn't Anti-Intellectual -- They Just Don't Like Disasterous Ivy-League Policies

Dr Tim Stanley is a research fellow in American History at Oxford University. He is working on a biography of Pat Buchanan. His personal website is www.timothystanley.co.uk and you can follow him on Twitter @timothy_stanley.

The Republican race has convinced many journalists that the Tea Party is congenitally stupid. “Bachmann and Perry frequently take policy positions that fly in the face of science,” writes one self-described “science advocate” in the Huffington Post. He goes on to list statements they have made about sex education, evolution, global warming and the death penalty to argue that they are in a “race to unreason”. Maureen Dowd in The New York Times provides circumstantial evidence that Rick Perry is a cretin: “Studying to be a veterinarian, he stumbled on chemistry and made a D one semester and an F in another… He even got a C in gym.” You read that right: according to Dowd the poor fellow can't even master a skipping rope. The liberal press has concluded that the only alternative to this confederacy of dunces is Jon Huntsman. He's “The Presidential Candidate the Media Hates the Least”, according to one headline, although that's probably because no one in the newsroom has ever heard of him....

But the broad charge of “anti-intellectualism” is totally untrue. Religious and fiscal conservatives read books – lots of them. That’s why the best-seller lists for the New York Times are so eclectic. In between Jonathan Franzen and Christopher Hitchens, you’ll find conservative polemicist Ann Coulter and evangelical preacher Joel Osteen. Townhall.com recently offered a list of 25 books every conservative should read. There were some predictable entries (economists Hayek and Friedman), but also a surprising appreciation for Mark Twain. Economically, the American Right boasts schools of thought that have dramatically reshaped the world. Britain and Chile took their lead from theories propounded at the University of Chicago. The neoconservatives (out of fashion now, but once the most powerful philosophical force in the Western World) can claim a remarkable intellectual lineage running from Leo Strauss to Bill Kristol. Social traditionalism provides a wonderful vein of literature (Russell Kirk, Clyde Wilson), as does the contemporary Catholic Right (John Dilulio). Two years ago, the star speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference dinner was the historian Eugene Genovese. The liberal professors who still use his textbooks on the history of slavery are presumably unaware of quite how cantankerously Right-wing Genovese really is....

At the heart of the Tea Party is an experiment in democracy and self-rule. Its members refuse to be told what to do or what to believe. In this sense, they are the antithesis of the intellectual elitism that permeates Ivy League academia. Some might call them wilfully stupid. History will say they were wise beyond their years.

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