Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Matthew Yglesias on Reagan's Intellectual Legacy

Something I saw a few days ago written by Matthew Yglesias about Ronald Reagan and anti-intellectualism:
The most disturbing element of the Reagan legacy is probably the decisive boost he gave to a kind of blinkered anti-intellectualism in American conservatism. That Ronald Reagan was not very smart was not, perhaps, a fatal flaw. I myself give him a great deal of credit for democratization and anti-communism. Nevertheless, that a man can have some successes despite his flaws is not the same as saying that his flaws did not exist.

At some point during the late-nineties campaign to secure the presidency for George W. Bush, however, the official line on this subject on the right took a drastic turn for the worse. All perspective was lost on Reagan, and his intellectual failings became an alleged asset, the better to justify the nomination of another feebleminded candidate.

This is a bit insane. Our two most popular recent Democratic presidents, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, were both quite the cads. So, too, was Martin Luther King, Jr. a womanizer. Progressives, however, both rightly consider these men to have been admirable leaders despite this aspect of their personality. We don't go around saying: What the country needs is some more womanizers! Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to have concluded that, via the mysterious quality of moral clarity (rightly derided by Leon Wieseltier in the current TNR) that an inability to comprehend policy details and nuance is an important qualification for high office. This is madness.

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