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A Lot Of Right-Wingers Have Egghead Envy

The Republican base loves to denounce "elitist" liberals and Democrats, but, for some on the right, that contempt derives from a barely concealed envy.
A Lot Of Right-Wingers Have Egghead Envy
Image from: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

In a post intended to rebut Ted Cruz skeptics, National Review's Kevin Williamson writes:

Is Ted Cruz “too extreme”? Longtime Cruz-watchers note that he starts his stump speech with reference to the moral philosopher John Rawls (free advice for Team Cruz: that did not go down well at Hillsdale!) a favorite of progressives and chief antagonist to Robert Nozick, a favorite among libertarian-ish types. That citation is too high-minded to be pandering, and it is too Harvardian to be intended to stir up primary voters of the sort who are always going on contemptuously about “the elites” as they rah-rah for the gentleman from Texas ... and Princeton, and Cambridge, Mass.

Nonsense. Of course it's "intended to stir up primary voters of the sort who are always going on contemptuously about 'the elites.'" The Republican base loves to denounce "elitist" liberals and Democrats, but, for some on the right, that contempt derives from a barely concealed envy. Right-wingers may praise the common people, but what many of them really want is for one of their own to give us stuck-up lefty eggheads a taste of what they regard as our own medicine. The ones who love Cruz think it's wonderful that he has Harvard and Princeton degrees, and love the fact that he tosses out allusions to philosophers they've never heard of, because they think he might be the one to deal out that sort of payback. (Then there are conservatives who've actually heard of Rawls. They think Cruz is taking a stick out of liberals' hands and beating us with it.)

Right-wing brainiac envy was a major reason for the burst of Gingrichmania in the 2012 primary season, as Dave Weigel noted:

When he talks to Republicans, especially to Republican voters who may not be inclined to back him, Newt Gingrich wins them over with a promise. He will outsmart Barack Obama. He will challenge him to "seven Lincoln-Douglas-style debates," as he said last week at the Republican Jewish Coalition's confab. The president can even "use a teleprompter," jokes Gingrich. It's one of the tightest punchlines in conservative politics.


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... [Republicans have] started to imagine him facing off against Barack Obama, the president they consider a pure media creation who can't put two words together unless they're in blue type on a screen in front of him....

Brainiac envy helps explain why right-wingers made a hero of William F. Buckley, who never used a common expression when a showoffy ten-dollar word would do. It's why they boast about the sheepskins of Dr. Charles Krauthammer and Dr. Thomas Sowell. It's why they all pretend they've read Hayek for pleasure. It's why Williamson himself tosses in those unexplained allusions to Hillsdale College and Rovert Nozick in the passage above -- See? We're intellectuals too, you liberal snob.

The right alternates between egghead envy and embrace of the Noble Primitive -- Sarah Palin, Phil Robertson, George W. Bush right after 9/11, and Saint Reagan, of course. It may be that the latter is more in fashion for 2016, which mean the voters will embrace the gee-whizzy college dropout Scott Walker rather than Cruz. But some will always want to believe that conservative Doctors of Thinkology will trump those on the evil left. And they'll be in Cruz's corner.

Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

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