Anti-intellectualism damaging in politics

Ideology aside, I can see why many Americans find Rick Santorum relatable. He presents himself as the underdog. He wears a sweater vest. He called himself the candidate you’d bring home to mom.

But a close look at his statements should frighten anyone who values education. On Jan. 10, Santorum called President Barack Obama an elitist snob. Why? Because Santorum believes that, if Obama had his way, every American child would go to college.

His assertion is just the latest example of anti-intellectualism in American politics. For too long, we have written off cerebral politicians as cold and untrustworthy, only to be charmed by the candidate most frequently photographed wearing a pair of cowboy boots.

But you can’t fix the economy with a smile. It’s time to see intellect as a necessity in our leaders.

First of all, let’s make the distinction between intellect and cleverness. Former president George W. Bush was clever. During his campaigns, he frequently dodged attacks by turning them into compliments.

Intellect, however, is about having a thirst for knowledge. Intellectuals think critically, as we’re repeatedly told to do in our classes.

It’s unfortunate that many Americans see intellect as a sign of elitism. True intellect encourages the opposite: the exploration of new ideas, and the willingness to admit when one might be wrong.

In part, anti-intellectualism is driven by the idea that smart people are inherently unlikeable. It’s an assumption present throughout pop culture: From Lisa Simpson to Sheldon Cooper, no one likes the nerd.

Pop culture aside, though, anti-intellectualism does have deeper roots. Obama holds degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School; the educational opportunities that were available to him still aren’t available to most Americans.

Although intellect has little to do with where one went to school, the connection between intellectualism and exclusive institutions is hard to shake.

That’s why former president Bill Clinton emphasized his small-town Arkansas roots over his time at Georgetown University. Did the latter prepare him for the presidency? Probably. Would it have helped him in the polls? Probably not.

Ironically, then, one of the best ways to combat anti-intellectualism is to improve access to education. A well-functioning public school system that encourages more Americans to exercise their minds would make brainy candidates seem less alien.

On the other end, elite education institutions should — well — tone down the elitism. They should do their best to open themselves up to the public.

The intellectuals in politics aren’t always going to be able to work a crowd. Still, as symbolic as many political positions are, leading isn’t always about looking good on stage.

Sorry, Santorum: sometimes, a degree does make you more qualified.


Maya Itah is a senior majoring in communication. Her column, “Tacklings the ‘-Isms,’” runs every other Thursday.     

2 replies
  1. Christopher Ganiere
    Christopher Ganiere says:

    Governments point to problems and say that the populace is helpless against them, that only government can solve the problems – this is a logical fallacy because the governments are comprised of the people. Governments are powerless to solve problems unless the people can also solve them.

  2. Jett Rucker
    Jett Rucker says:

    Reasons to avoid substance in campaigning (in America today):
    1. Voters who disagree with SOMETHING you said are more likely to vote against you than voters who agree with it are to vote FOR you.
    2. Anything you said you favored that doesn’t happen during your tenure can become a broken campaign promise.
    3. Any position you express is subject to criticism for “insensitivity” by anyone whose racial/ethnic background could possibly sustain offense at the way you expressed it. Insensitivity invariably trumps not only substance but even other, concurrent SENSITIVITIES on the candidate’s part.

    Just wear cowboy boots and smile. GOOD article, as always from Maya Itah!

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