Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
They Said It:
It is difficult to know what kinds of calculations or miscalculations North Korea’s young new leader and his entourage might make in the period ahead. But there are other reasons for worry far from the corridors of power in Pyongyang.
The last weeks and months have exposed profound dysfunction in the corridors of Washington where U.S. foreign and defense policy are formulated.
The case of North Korea illustrates a foreign policy untethered from any overarching strategy. All recent administrations have wrestled with the challenges posed by the predictably unpredictable regime in Pyongyang. But few administrations have taken a sucker punch like the one delivered on April 14, when North Korea tested a long-range missile….
By extending an olive branch to Pyongyang only to have it snapped off at the stem, the Obama administration’s singular achievement was to showcase its own naiveté and weakness.
Richard Williamson, “Obama’s Jimmy Carter Moment,” Foreign Policy, April 26, 2012.
SMART DIPLOMACY, REDUX.
The world, it seems, is panicked over the thought of war with North Korea. This makes some sense, we suppose, given that the Norks have proven nuclear weapons capabilities and an entirely unproven leader, Kim Ding Dong, version 3.0. Moreover, by moving missiles around and telling foreign governments to evacuate their embassies, the Norks look, for all the world, to be serious this time.
Of course, they were serious the last time they did this too. And the time before that. And the time before that. Etc., etc. ad nauseam. Does anyone have the Plains, Georgia phone book? It strikes us that it just might be time to call in the 39th President of these here United States, like Bill Clinton did when he had trouble with the Kim family. At that time, if you recall, Clinton thought that Jimmy’s trip would give the North Korean leader a means for backing down while saving face.
Of course, when the little dork went to North Korea, he peed all over both his own country and himself, and accomplished nothing except to tell the world that he and Bill were both saps. But at least another visit would provide little Kim with a Clint Eastwood moment that might keep him happy for a while. And it’s not as if Lil’ Kim’s antics are standing in the way of some sort of grand American foreign policy plan. Indeed, if there’s any benefit at all for having no such plan, no world view, no clue as to America’s role in the 21st century, this is it. After all, you can’t screw up something that doesn’t exist.
We don’t really mean to make light of the situation on the Korean peninsula. After all, the London Sunday Express said over the weekend that “a former US government official put the seriousness of the North Korean threat for the Pentagon as eight out of 10, ‘where one is strategic patience and 10 is political freak out’.” Yet . . . yet . . . we must say that one could be forgiven for asking why in God’s name the United States is spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year on defense if it “freaks out” at the sword rattling of a tiny little pissant country that can’t even keep its own people fed. Or better yet, why South Korea can’t be counted upon to defend itself bravely and effectively – one on one, so to speak – against its poor little neighbor to the North after years and years of American efforts to beef up its military capabilities.
In any case, we don’t think there is going to be a war with North Korea. Moreover, we think that if there is one, it will be over very quickly. And, surprise, surprise! The United States will win. Because when the matter is turned over to the U.S. military, the United States once again has the advantage. And a very real advantage, at that.
We think Lil’ Kim knows this. We think he isn’t as a stupid as he appears. Nor is he suicidal. We think he’s simply engaging in the diplomatic version of “extreme sports.” After all, there isn’t a whole lot do in North Korea, especially for “someone who has everything,” or at least everything that is available in North Korea, which isn’t much. Indeed, if either of us were the big enchilada in North Korea, we’d probably do the same thing. Out of boredom.
Of course, there’s danger involved. But that’s the purpose. Right? It’s adrenaline, baby!
And the thing that makes it so exciting is that the danger is not only very high, but Kim is facing the perfect adversary for his first serious attempt at this game. You see, in Kim’s mind, he is a very smart guy, and Barack Obama is a nudnik, a scrawny little dope smoking leftie who hit the lottery. In fact, he probably feels a certain sort of kinship to Obama. Both are fulfilling similar promises to dead fathers. Obama went to his daddy’s grave to promise to end American colonialism. Kim has made the same promise to his dead dad.
Moreover, in Kim’s mind, we would guess that Obama bears a strong resemblance to good ol’ Jimmy Carter, whom his dad outsmarted in front of the whole world. Kim was 11 when this happened. You think he wasn’t in on the celebration and the laughs at Jimmy’s expense, and the stories of how foolish and cowardly America’s leaders are? Think again. That must have been a big event in his life.
The American mainstream media likes to think that Kim is untried. With great gravity, the talking heads tell us that “We know very little about him. We don’t know what he is capable of doing.” And this is true, of course. What they don’t say, is that Obama is equally untried, and that they have no more idea what he is capable of doing than they have for Kim. In fact, we think it would be fair to say that the fear that the rest of the world is experiencing vis-a-vis North Korea is probably related more to Obama’s inexperience than to Kim’s.
What we do know is that Kim grew up listening to stories of how his dad and his granddad played this game, and did it with great, world-shattering success. And now it is his chance to play. And he holds all of the cards. All of them. No one does anything until he does. Everyone at the table awaits his next move. His opponents are afraid that if they do anything to antagonize him, “cause him to lose face,” he might do something “stupid.” Strains of Gershwin can be heard in the background: “Who could ask for anything more.”
So, he can play until he tires of the game. Then he can fold his hand and leave the table with at least what he brought into the game, and maybe something more. In short, he can follow the sage advice of Sir Walter Scott. “Patience cousin, but shuffle the cards till our hand is a stronger one.” What could be more fun than that for a guy who likes Hollywood movies? And what makes it even more fun is that Obama is playing his role as “the stupid American” perfectly.
And China? You want to know about China? China, the country that John McCain says is not “acting responsibly as a super power should?” Well, China’s playing the same game Kim is playing. Just on a different, higher level. If Obama had two noses, China would be tweaking both of them. Why? For the same reason that a dog . . . well, you know. In reality, whether McCain knows it or not, China is acting exactly as a great super power could be expected to act. It is taking advantage of the manifold weaknesses of its only major competitor for global dominance. It can’t count on the United States being run by a fool forever. So it’s making hay while the sun shines, so to speak.
And you know what? The whole damn world is playing this game. Pin the tail on the donkey. Only in this game, the donkey is the one wearing the blindfold.
And in virtually every case, the games that others are playing are more dangerous than the one being played by Lil’ Kim. In North Korea, the fear is that someone will misplay his hand, screw things up, and cause a major global incident. But in the Middle East and in North Africa, no one needs to screw anything up. Things are already screwed up. Indeed, in both spots, on-going crises present a very strong reason to believe that it is only a matter of time before the world will be witness to a full-blown war, or maybe more than one.
On the off chance you haven’t been paying terribly close attention – and with the North Korea business occupying the media’s collective mind so completely, who could blame you? – Egypt is rather quickly and rather irreversibly collapsing into chaos. Over the weekend, the virtually non-stop rioting in the country turned deadly (again) as what’s left of the country’s opposition was attacked (again). The Daily Star of Lebanon reported thusly:
Egyptian police fired tear gas outside Cairo’s Coptic cathedral on Sunday after clashes following funeral prayers for four Christians killed in sectarian clashes. Black-clad riot police pointed at the main gate of the cathedral and fired the tear gas, television footage showed, as Coptic worshippers sought refuge inside the building. Witnesses said the mourners who were chanting against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood were pelted with stones as they came out of the cathedral.
In a statement, the interior ministry said “a number of mourners began to damage cars in the area which led to confrontations with residents of the area.” Television footage showed scenes of chaos outside the cathedral in the central Cairo neighbourhood of Abbassiya where Coptic bishops had been calling for peace and calm after the killing of the Christians on Friday. Loud bangs could be heard, as clouds of smoke rose up into the sky and people ran in several directions . . .
One Muslim was also killed in the clashes which flared on Friday night in Al-Khusus, a poor area in Qalyubia governorate, after a Muslim in his 50s objected to children drawing a swastika on a religious institute. The man insulted Christians and the cross, and an argument broke out with a young Christian man who was passing by, escalating into a gunbattle between Muslims and Christians in which assault rifles were used. A priest in Al-Khusus, Suryal Yunan, said attackers torched “parts” of an Anglican church. Muslims also set a Christian home ablaze and ransacked a pharmacy owned by a Copt, a police official said.
This, of course, comes less than two weeks after Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi promised to unleash the full power of the state to put an end, once and for all, to the opposition to the new regime. Morsi hasn’t exactly been delicate in dealing with his unhappy and anxious countrymen, but it sounds very much as if he’s going to be even less so moving forward. Reuters reports:
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi threatened on Sunday to take unspecified steps to “protect this nation” after violent demonstrations against his Muslim Brotherhood, using vague but severe language that the opposition said heralded a crackdown.
In remarks following clashes outside the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters on Friday, Mursi warned that “necessary measures” would be taken against any politicians shown to be involved in what he described as violence and rioting.
“If I am forced to do what is required to protect this nation, then I will do it. And I fear that I might be on the verge of doing it,” Mursi said in a statement. He did not elaborate.
“They are very scary comments,” said Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front (NSF), an alliance of non-Islamist parties formed late last year to oppose Mursi.
One might, we’ll concede, be tempted to find a little encouragement in the fact that the Egyptians are rioting against their Islamist masters. But one would also, we’d argue, be foolish to give in to that temptation. When the Brotherhood took power, many analysts speculated that its reign would be short-lived, as it would be unable to manage such a diverse and restless nation and would be incapable of imposing order where none had existed for some time. Some of these forecasts, obviously, have proven correct, though the biggest threat to the government was largely overlooked and is also largely beyond the control of the Brotherhood. We speak here of the Egyptian economy.
The Egyptian government is broke. Period. There is no money coming in and considerable money going out – mostly in the form of subsidies for bread and other food staples. Tourism is non-existent and will be for some time, and people are, slowly but surely, beginning to starve. And it will only get worse. As The New York Times put it last weekend:
Egypt is running out of the hard currency it needs for fuel imports. The shortage is raising questions about Egypt’s ability to keep importing wheat that is essential to subsidized bread supplies, stirring fears of an economic catastrophe at a time when the government is already struggling to quell violent protests by its political rivals. Farmers already lack fuel for the pumps that irrigate their fields, and they say they fear they will not have enough for the tractors to reap their wheat next month before it rots in the fields.
Now, if you’ve paid attention to these pages over the past couple of years, this doesn’t come as a surprise to you. More to the point, if you’ve paid attention to the columnist/author David P. Goldman (a.k.a. “Spengler”), you knew this was the likely outcome of the Egyptian Arab Spring long before that spring ever sprang. Goldman began warning about the economic collapse of the Arab basket cases before Hosni Mubarak was deposed by the Tarhir Square revolutionaries. He has been absolutely dead on with respect to the effect that global grain prices would have on places like Egypt. And now he is warning that the current crisis is both unrelated to the day-to-day travails of the Egyptian regime and all but certain to result in major explosion of violence and turmoil. To wit:
Egypt is not going into an economic and social tailspin because the government of Hosni Mubarak fell in 2011; the government of Hosni Mubarak fell because Egypt already was headed into an economic and social tailspin. We stand not before a glorious era of Muslim democracy, comparable to the revival of Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism, but a prolonged period of chaos. We cannot prevent this; at best we can limit the damage. The problem with the Republican Party isn’t that our generals are stupid or malicious. On the contrary: with great intelligence and good will, they have been fighting the last war rather than the new kind of war that confronts us. A war arising from civilizational failure is a circumstance that never entered their imagination.
The current flashpoint in Egypt is a nearly $5 billion IMF loan that has yet to be delivered and won’t be unless the country cuts its spending, which, as we noted, is directed at keeping starving people from starving too quickly and, more notably, to keep them from rioting. If the government wants the IMF money, it will have to cut bread subsidies. But if it cuts bread subsidies, all hell could break loose. And as Spengler notes, even the entire IMF loan isn’t enough to pay off what the Egyptian government already owes to its energy suppliers.
All of this is painfully reminiscent of the Egyptian-IMF riots that took place in 1977. Then, as now, the government had to cut bread subsidies if it wanted the IMF to loan it money. Back then, the government of Anwar Sadat made the cuts and was nearly toppled for its trouble. Fortunately, for Sadat, those were the good ol’ days of the Cold War and the Carter presidency, which meant that when he reinstated the subsidies, he was still able to salvage his regime and his economy by cuddling up to the United States, by swearing off Soviet support, and by agreeing to meet the Israelis at Camp David.
No such options are available today for Mohamed Morsi, and even if there were, he wouldn’t take them. All of which is to say that Egypt is largely on an irreversible path toward mass starvation, mass upheaval, and mass(ive) violence, regardless of what Morsi decides to do.
Meanwhile, a short swim around the Mediterranean from Egypt, the two-year-long war between Syria’s Bashar Assad and his countrymen appears to be going from bad to worse. The American government, under the intrepid leadership of Barack Obama, has belatedly come to the conclusion that the rebels who are most likely to win this war are . . . Islamist thugs. Who didn’t know? We mean other than the current President and his valiant former Secretary of State, Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, from what we can gather by reading the mainstream media, will be Obama’s eventual replacement. Is this a great country or what?
The Washington Post noted last week that the United States, in cooperation with Jordan, has decided to step up implementation of a “buffer zone” between that nation and Syria, on the off chance that the rebellion ends unpleasantly, which seems more and more likely. According both to the Post and to Professor Barry Rubin, what this suggests is that the Obama administration is beginning to panic over the probability that Islamist elements will eventually topple Assad and take control of Syria. Here’s Rubin, who is the Director of the Global Research for International Affairs (GLORIA) Center the editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
As U.S. officials became increasingly worried about the visible Islamist domination of the Syrian opposition—which their own policies had helped promote—they have realized the horrible situation of creating still another radical Islamist regime. (Note: This column has been warning of this very point for years.)
So the response is to try to do two things. The first is to train, with Jordanian cooperation, a more moderate force of Free Syrian Army (FSA) units. The idea is to help the non-Islamists compete more effectively with the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafist, and especially al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra group) affiliated units.
The second is supposedly to create a buffer zone along Syria’s borders with Jordan and perhaps later Israel and even Iraq in order to avoid the conflict spilling over—i.e., cross-border jihad terror attacks—to those countries.
Someone has also figured out that it isn’t a great idea to have a border with Iraq controlled by Syrian Sunni Muslim terrorist Islamists allied with the Sunni terrorists in Iraq who killed so many Americans.
The best part of all of this, of course, is that while the Americans twiddled their thumbs, the risks to every single country in the region have grown prodigiously. According to the Washington Post (and, again, Rubin) the administration is currently quite concerned about the fact that some 20,000 MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems, i.e. shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles) have gone missing from the late Libyan Desert Queen Moamar Gaddafi’s stockpiles. They are believed to be in the hands of Syrian rebels. All of which is to say that these rebels now constitute an enormous threat not only to to Assad but to Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Iraq, and Lebanon as well.
Rubin notes that the Lebanon bit probably doesn’t concern the administration too much, since the Syrian Sunni rebels will likely target the Shi’ite Hezbollah. Unfortunately, this raises an even more unpleasant prospect: full-blown Sunni-Shi’ite war, with chemical and possibly nuclear weapons at play.
What we know is this: the Iranians are working desperately to develop a bomb. When they do, the Saudis will want one too, as will the Turks, and God knows who else. Meanwhile, the Iranians are also putting all their surplus wealth (which is not much) into saving Assad and thereby salvaging Hezbollah. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, on the other hand, are all funding the Sunni Islamists in Syria and are just as desperately working to prevent Iranian expansionism. At the same time, the world’s largest Arab country, Egypt, is collapsing into chaos and is looking for a patron who might be able to provide it with the oil and cash necessary to keep its people from starving and/or revolting.
In the middle of all of this, naturally, is Israel, which clearly has a preference as to how it would like to see all of this resolved, but may not have a preference as to whom it would like to see emerge victorious in that resolution. Six of one, half-dozen of the other, and all that. Still, most Israelis would probably rather that the entire region not degenerate into regional, ethnic, and sectarian warfare. For starters, Israel would be, geographically, right in the middle of the mess. Additionally, and more to the point, anyone and everyone involved would look to burnish their post-war credentials by being the country/people/faction/sect that took out the hated Zionists, despite the fact that the Israelis had no role whatsoever in any of the causes of this disaster-in-the-making.
It is worth remembering, we think, that while the world focuses its attention on Obama and how he is handling the Korean problem; and while the American press focuses its attention on a woman whose greatest accomplishment in life was marrying a philandering political savant, the Middle East is on the verge of an historic eruption, which both Obama and Hillary passively watched develop.
No one, sadly, will be able to watch anything passively if that eruption occurs. The explosion that ensues may not be as spectacular as a North Korean nuke would be. But its repercussions will be far more severe and far more enduring. And they, not Korea, will constitute the Obama foreign policy legacy, which the mainstream press will hail as either a great victory or “the best that could be expected given the mess that George Bush left behind.”
JOBS AND HIGHER EDUCATION: THE ROAD TO STARBUCKS.
As you well know, we are not economists, and consequently, we usually say very little about specific economic events or reports. But given all of the discussion and disappointment surrounding last week’s jobs report, we thought we might break tradition a little bit, mostly because that jobs report is connected in so many ways to otherwise seemingly discreet political phenomena.
Last week, and at least a couple of other times in these pages, we mentioned that one of our favorite young-ish conservative writers is Megan McCardle, formerly of The Atlantic and currently of the Daily Beast/Newsweek. In her column of March 27, Ms. McCardle discussed a topic that set us to thinking. And what we thought was confirmed in many ways over the next several days in a variety of events.
McCardle’s piece was a commentary on the well-worn topic of the declining value of a bachelor’s degree in our post-crash economy. Arguably, her title, “Why a BA is Now a Ticket to a Job in a Coffee Shop,” said all there was to say. Still, she added:
A new paper from Paul Beaudry, David Green, and Benjamin Sand argues that these worried kids [living at home with their parents . . . and their degrees] – and their worried parents – are not just imagining things. The phenomenon is all too real. Skilled workers with higher degrees are increasingly ending up in lower-skilled jobs that don’t really require a degree – and in the process, they’re pushing unskilled workers out of the labor force altogether . . .
Six months ago, I made quite a splash with a Newsweek story arguing that we may be overinvesting in college. There were basically three parts to this argument: first, that a lot of college attendance is signaling activity rather than skill acquisition; second, that more students with BAs are ending up in jobs that don’t require them; and third, that a substantial number of kids don’t finish, washing out with a lot of debt and no commensurate earning power to pay it.
A growing number of students may be in a credentialling arms race to gain access to routine service jobs. Or maybe the productivity of our nation’s wait staff is spiking as more skilled workers flood into these jobs.
Now, the basic argument here is that there simply aren’t enough jobs for skilled workers. That may be so. And yet, yesterday the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that all of the H-1B visas for high-skilled immigrants (for 2014) have already been allotted, the first time the visa quota was filled in the first week since 2008. Meanwhile, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer were among the tech-company leaders who sent a letter to President Obama begging him to work out a deal to increase the number of H-1B visas, which the companies claim is absolutely necessary to maintain global competitiveness. At the same time, the immigration reform bills pending in Congress seek to increase – in some cases to double – the number of high-skilled visas granted every year, again at the behest of business interest groups.
All of which raises the question: if there aren’t enough jobs for skilled American college graduates, why does American business desperately insist that it needs to increase the number visas for immigrant skilled workers?
There may be several answers to this question, of course, but it strikes us that one of the most obvious is that “skilled” American college graduates aren’t really all that skilled. Maybe there aren’t enough jobs for everyone, but maybe . . . just maybe . . . the reason that there aren’t enough jobs is because companies don’t have the time or the resources to take contemporary American college graduates and turn them into actual “skilled” workers. Maybe, in other words, American college graduates are working in the coffee shop because that’s just about the only thing that their degrees prepare them to do.
In case you missed it, the conservative media was in high dudgeon last week over a new report from the National Association of Scholars that indicts Bowdoin College in Maine as a bastion of Leftism that is obsessed with race, gender, sexuality, and the like. David Feith told the story as follows in the Wall Street Journal:
One day in the summer of 2010, Barry Mills, the president of Bowdoin College, a respected liberal-arts school in Brunswick, Maine, met investor and philanthropist Thomas Klingenstein for a round of golf about an hour north of campus. College presidents spend many of their waking hours talking to potential donors. In this case, the two men spoke about college life—especially “diversity”—and the conversation made such an impression on President Mills that he cited it weeks later in his convocation address to Bowdoin’s freshman class. That’s where the dispute begins.
In his address, President Mills described the golf outing and said he had been interrupted in the middle of a swing by a fellow golfer’s announcement: “I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons,” said the other golfer, in Mr. Mills’s telling. During Mr. Mills’s next swing, he recalled, the man blasted Bowdoin’s “misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.” At the end of the round, the college president told the students, “I walked off the course in despair.” . . .
Word of the speech soon got to Mr. Klingenstein [who] took to the pages of the Claremont Review of Books to call it nonsense . . . The real story, wrote Mr. Klingenstein, was that “I explained my disapproval of ‘diversity’ as it generally has been implemented on college campuses: too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference,” coupled with “not enough celebration of our common American identity.” . . .
A few months later, Mr. Klingenstein decided to do something surprising: He commissioned researchers to examine Bowdoin’s commitment to intellectual diversity, rigorous academics and civic identity. This week, some 18 months and hundreds of pages of documentation later, the project is complete. Its picture of Bowdoin isn’t pretty . . .
Published Wednesday, the report demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.
Now, we don’t know how much money ol’ Thomas Klingstein shelled out for this report. But we do know that for half that amount, we’d have been happy to sit down with him in a conference room somewhere and tell him exactly what the report told him, that being that colleges and universities – ESPECIALLY LIBERAL arts colleges – are LIBERAL! Honestly, we need a report to tell us this? Or to tell us that kids who go to school today get a much narrower and less rigorous education than even those who went to school ten years ago, or twenty, not to mention forty-five? This could have been concluded with simple research – at home on the great and powerful internet, where hundreds of articles and reports make this same argument using much the same data. Heck, one could have figured this out just by talking to a handful of today’s college graduates, which is the point we’re trying to make here.
What do companies do when they want to hire people? They look at resumes. If the resumes are sufficiently impressive, they do interviews, which is to say that they talk to prospective employees. And when they talk to these prospective employees, more and more they decide that they would be better off using robots, or foreigners, or . . . well . . . doing the work themselves, without adding another name to the payroll.
Longtime readers may well know that the degradation of the American higher educated system is one of our major themes, though not one we’ve addressed at any great length recently. Back in the 1990s, we used to run pieces all time noting how a majority of American college seniors believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife or think that Karl Marx was Groucho’s kid brother.
In those days, others were doing more substantive work, work that makes the Bowdoin report seem both insipid and tardy. Consider, for example, the case of Roger Kimball, the editor, publisher, and author who, twenty-three years ago wrote the book Tenured Radicals on the collapse of American higher education into a morass of identity politics and class warfare. The following comes from an article written by Kimball as a follow-up to Tenured Radicals and published in the New Criterion in January 1991, which was nine months after his book hit the stands:
[S]ubsequent developments in the academy have shown that if Tenured Radicals erred in its indictment, it erred on the side of understatement. It is not just that the peddlers of such politicized nonsense are in many cases among the most celebrated academics in the country: senior professors safely ensconced at Yale and Stanford, at Princeton and Harvard, Duke, the University of California, and other premier institutions, where they chair departments, sit on promotion and tenure committees, and busy themselves developing and implementing radical curricular changes for their own and other institutions. That was already clear in the late 1980s. Nor is it simply that, unlike most of their moderate colleagues, such tenured radicals tend to be indefatigable proselytizers, bent on winning converts in their war against the traditional moral and intellectual values of liberal-arts education. Troubling though that be, it, too, has been obvious for some time. Nor, finally, is it news that even the most bizarre writings and proclamations coming out of the academy, instead of being regarded as exotic or repellent curiosities, are often instrumental in setting the terms of debate both in the classroom and within the profession as a whole. No one familiar with the land of thing that passes for scholarship today will be surprised to discover—to take just one example—that the presentation of a paper called “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl” at the 1989 annual meeting of the Modern Language Association was matched by a paper at the 1990 meeting on “The Lesbian Phallus: Or, Does Heterosexuality Exist?” (One might have thought that the evidence for the existence of heterosexuality was well established, but evidence does not necessarily count for much among our new academic elite.)
All this is wearisomely familiar. What is new is the extent to which the constellation of radical trends that dominate the teaching of the humanities at many of our best institutions has found common cause in the rise of a new political ideology: the ideology of multiculturalism. Notwithstanding the emancipationist rhetoric that accompanies the term, “multiculturalism” as used in the academy today is not about recognizing genuine cultural diversity or encouraging pluralism. It is about undermining the priority of Western liberal values in our educational system and in society at large.
So . . . we ask again: what, exactly, was the point of the Bowdoin study?
Last week, countless conservatives mocked the eminently mockable New York Times for a correction it issued relating to an Easter story about Pope Francis. The correction read as follows:
Correction: April 1, 2013
An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.
This is, obviously, a ridiculous correction. For starters, the language in the original is atrocious. Jesus was resurrected into Heaven? Really? Has that construction ever been used in the history of man? As Michael Walsh asked, “What the hell does ‘resurrection into heaven’ even mean?” Additionally, and more to the point, does the nation’s “newspaper of record” really not know what Easter is? These are, we are told, the best and brightest journalists in the world. And they don’t know anything about Easter? This drivel made it through the Times’ vaunted layers of fact-checkers and editors? Walsh continued: “They say you tend to believe what you read in the newspaper until the story concerns something you actually know about. The Times has just proven to 1.2 billion Catholics around the world that it knows nothing about their religion.”
In response to his National Review colleague, the inimitable Mark Steyn charged that the circumstances were actually considerably grimmer than Walsh had admitted, given that ignorance of Christianity is also ignorance of Western culture:
Where I think Michael understates the case is when he says that it reveals the Times as know-nothings to 1.2 billion Catholics. Leaving aside the massed ranks of Anglicans, Methodists et al, it exposes the Times to believers and non-believers alike as culturally ignorant. The Bible underpins a big chunk of western art, music, and literature, and not to know its basic concepts is to condemn yourself to bobbing around in the shallows . . .
Not to know any of this stuff, to be as tone-deaf to it as that Times correction, is to be entirely unmoored from your cultural inheritance – regardless of one’s “faith tradition” (as Al Gore would put it) . . . America’s supposed “newspaper of record” has just announced itself to the world as civilizationally illiterate.
Regular readers undoubtedly know that we get a kick out of Steyn, who, more than any other writer working today writes the lines that makes us slap our foreheads and mutter, “Damn. I wish I’d written that.” Still, we think that he too understates the case here and understates it radically.
To be ignorant of Christianity and its various principles is to be ignorant of a great deal more than “western art, music, and literature.” It is, rather, to be ignorant of the very foundations of the civilization in which we live, the very metaphysical, political, and social phenomena that make the West the West and America America.
Everything from the concept of inalienable individual rights to capitalism to constitutional democracy is derived is some way, great or small, from Christian principles.
Many Leftists in this country today insist that this is NOT a Christian nation founded on Christian values. They cite the Founders, namely Jefferson and Franklin, as proof of this, noting that both men denied that they were creating a religious nation. And while it may be technically true that many of the Founders wanted overt religion excluded from the governing principles of the nation, it is also philosophically irrelevant. The natural rights formulation adopted by the Founders and expressed so elegantly by the very same Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence is an unambiguously Christian principle, derived from Christian works written by Christian theologians. But if one is ignorant of, say, Locke, and has never had any exposure whatsoever to Aquinas, then how on God’s green earth could one be expected to know that? And most new college graduates today wouldn’t know Locke from Rousseau, or Aquinas from a hole in the ground.
Consider, if you will, the example of the President of the United States, who only last week gave yet another “major” policy address, this time on gun control. In discussing the Constitutional questions surrounding gun control measures, Obama said the following:
You hear some of these quotes: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away. Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.
This is, to put it mildly, nuts. More to the point, it’s wildly ignorant of the nature of our system, of the nature of the rights with which each man (and woman) are recognized to be endowed under our system, and of the nature of representation in a constitutional REPUBLIC.
We are tempted simply to call this man an idiot. And then it occurs to us that he was, up until nine years ago, a lecturer on Constitutional Law, of all things, at one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools. He, among others, was responsible for teaching this nation’s best and brightest what their Constitution means. And yet he, clearly, doesn’t have the foggiest idea what it means.
The higher education system in this country is manifestly broken. It is ridiculously expensive. It is ridiculously restrictive of free speech. It suffers from a dearth of true diversity. It leaves the majority of its charges in serious debt. It’s a mess. Worst of all, of course, it produces graduates who know very little, with degrees that are virtually worthless.
You wanna know why many college grads are at home, living with mom and dad, mixing up Frappuccinos at the local Starbucks? Because their education has been devalued. Most employers don’t think that their degrees are worth the sheepskin they’re printed on.
And do you wanna know who suffers the most because of this perception? The students who actually do take reasonable classes, who actually do apply themselves, and who, therefore, actually do learn something. These kids are being shut out of the jobs market through no fault of their own, but because their contemporaries are know-nothings and because their alma maters proudly made them so. These kids are educated, are skilled, are capable of taking on the high-skilled positions available in today’s job market. But they are rarely given the chance, largely because it takes time, effort, and resources to weed through stack of resumes to find the one potential hire who will actually be able to do the job. It is much easier and cheaper to automate, to outsource, or to hire from abroad.
The American higher education system is failing. And you don’t need a study from an association of scholars to prove it. You need only look at the latest round of jobs data, or pay a little attention to the immigration debate, or read the New York Times, or, most ominously of all, listen to the President of the United States.
This last one’s the dead giveaway, of course. But then, you don’t need an association of scholars to tell you that either.