The Closing of the Republican Mind

November 11, 2015

By James Taranto at The Wall Street Journal

Bye-ku for Larry Lessig and Mark Everson

If we wrote haikus
For these guys, we’d have to write
Gary Johnson one

In Defense of Philosophers
Apologies once again for our lengthy absence. Its cause was the same as the last time, a detached retina, requiring surgery and a lengthy, tedious convalescence. We expect this not to happen again as we have now exhausted our allotment of eyes.

Last night’s Republican debate offered less drama and more substance than the earlier ones, but we’d like to dilate on a theme that irked us: the bashing of philosophers and philosophy. The worst comment in this regard came from Marco Rubio: “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”

That should be “fewer philosophers,” but we quibble. Later Ted Cruz disparaged the Federal Reserve as “a series of philosopher-kings trying to guess what’s happening with the economy.” Then John Kasich, defending bank bailouts: “When there are financial crises, or a crisis with Ebola, you got to go there and try to fix it. Philosophy doesn’t work when you run something.” To which Cruz replied: “So you said you’d abandon philosophy and abandon principle . . . but what would you do if the bank was failing?”

Apart from that Cruz rejoinder, no one had a kind word to say about philosophers or philosophy, not even Donald Trump. We half-expected the candidates to begin chanting in unison: “Hey hey! Ho ho! Western culture’s got to go!”

To be sure, Rubio had a reasonable point about the value of vocational training and skilled trades. In the earlier undercard debate, Rick Santorum made much the same argument, also employing the welder synecdoche. But he avoided the invidious comparison with philosophers:

I spent this morning in Chicago at Fabtech, which is . . . a sheet-metal fabricators conference. Thousands of people there explained the latest and newest technologies.

You know what I was told? I was told when I went to booth after booth that there are 250,000 welder jobs open in America—250,000 welder jobs paying anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000 a year, and if you want to weld pipe on a, you know, for oil and gas pipelines, you can make $100,000 a year. . . .

We have to start doing something about training and employing people who are sitting on the sidelines because they don’t see a path. And we have . . . a bureaucracy in Washington and a president in Washington—and even among Republicans who think everybody has to go to college. People need to go to work, and we need to provide opportunities for them to go to work out of high school.

Disappointingly, however, nobody in either debate said anything about a related topic that has been very much in the news this past week: the dissolute state of American higher education. Consider two quotations from the recent campus fracases: “I need some muscle over here” and “It is not about creating an intellectual space!”

The former, as we noted yesterday, is from Melissa Click, a professor of “mass media” at the University of Missouri, who was trying to intimidate a student-photojournalist into leaving a public space where a demonstration was occurring.

The latter came from Yale, where a dispute over (of all things) Halloween costumes led to an ugly scene in which, as Reason’s Robby Soave noted, a mob of students confronted Nicholas Christakis, master of the delightfully named Silliman College, and demanded his resignation. “What was Christakis’s crime? His wife, an early childhood educator, had responded to a campus-wide email about offensive Halloween costumes by opining that it was inappropriate for the college to tell students how to dress.”

One student informed Christakis that “as your position as master, it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students.” He disagreed, and she shouted obscenities at him. When he tried to reply again, she interrupted:

“Then step down! If that is what you think about being a [inaudible] master, then you should step down. It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here! You are not doing that. You’re going against that.”

Silliman is a home of sorts—but it’s a residential college. If that’s not “an intellectual space,” what in the world is?

Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education captured the exchange on video. Later, heckling and chanting students disrupted a Friday conferenceon campus free speech organized by Yale’s William F. Buckley Jr. Program, where Lukianoff was among the speakers. (Disclosure: This columnist was scheduled to be on a panel at the Buckley conference but had to cancel on account of our ocular infirmity.)

Alas, it didn’t take long for Christakis to submit. As the Washington Post reports:

“I have disappointed you and I’m really sorry,” Nicholas Christakis told about 100 students gathered in his living room on Sunday for a meeting also attended by Jonathan Holloway, the dean of Yale College, and other university administrators. . . .

“I mean it just broke my heart,” Christakis said. “I thought that I had some credibility with you, you know? I care so much about the same issues you care about. I’ve spent my life taking care of these issues of injustice, of poverty, of racism. I have the same beliefs that you do … I’m genuinely sorry, and to have disappointed you. I’ve disappointed myself.”

“But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

To our mind, the anti-intellectual undertones of the Republican debate—especially Rubio’s disparagement of philosophers—are all too resonant with the anti-intellectual attitudes that prevailed this week at Yale and Missouri. American higher education has become commercialized, politicized and dumbed down—less devoted to education and, as Nicholas Christakis found out, more to re-education.

Philosophers are an easy political punching bag because, contrary to Rubio, there aren’t many of them. And anti-intellectualism on a debate stage is relatively harmless compared with on campus, where it does real violence to the life of the mind. John Podhoretzquipped on Twitter: “I wish Rubio had said ‘assistant professors of communications.’ ” It would have been even better if he—or someone—had said a word in defense of Western culture.

Other Than That, the Story Was Accurate
“Editor’s note: POLITICO stands by its reporting on this story, which has been updated to reflect Ben Carson’s on the record response. The original story and headline said that Carson’s campaign had admitted he ‘fabricated’ a ‘full scholarship’ from West Point, but now Carson denies that his campaign’s statement constituted such an admission, and the story and headline were changed to reflect that. POLITICO’s reporting established that Carson said he received a ‘full scholarship’ from West Point, in writing and in public appearances over the years—but in fact he did not and there is actually no such thing as a ‘full scholarship’ to the taxpayer-funded academy. And today in response to POLITICO he acknowledged for the first time that was not the case. Carson never explicitly wrote that he had applied for admission to West Point, although that was the clear implication of his claim to have received an offer of a ‘full scholarship,’ a point that POLITICO’s initial report should have made clear.”—Politico, Nov. 6

Why Do Bad Things Always Happen to Him?
“President Barack Obama’s effort to implement the Iran nuclear deal has been dealt another blow—at least on the public relations front—with word that the Islamist government in Tehran has imprisoned a fourth American.”—Nahal Toosi, Politico, Oct. 30

Fox Butterfield, Is That You?
“[Baby boomers] allowed college costs to more than double from 1982 to 2012. Though, point in their favor: Many of them took out loans to send their children to school.”—Jim Tankersley, Washington Post website, Nov. 5

Metaphor Alert
“The 111th World Series is on now, the Mets imbued with confidence and the Royalsburning with fire, the intrigue not in whether there will be retaliation but exactly how much the Royals plan to mete out. Thor wielded his hammer, chucked it at the head of the ALCS MVP and opened Pandora’s box.”—Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports, Oct. 31

Out on a Limb
“Tornadoes Possible in Arkansas, Missouri, Other States”—headline, Associated Press, Nov. 8

We Blame George W. Bush
“CNN’s Gergen Blames GOPers for Media Ignoring Holes in Clinton Benghazi Story”—headline,, Oct. 30

We Blame Global Warming
“Socialism Is Suddenly Hot! The Unions Show Signs of Life! Is ‘Class Consciousness’ Coming to America at Last?”—headline, Salon, Nov. 10

What Would We Do Without Experts?

  • “Should You Have Sex With Robots? Experts Weigh In”—headline,, Nov. 4
  • “Experts on Carson’s Pyramid Theories: ‘He Doesn’t’ Even Deserve Response”—headline, Talking Points Memo, Nov. 10

Ready for Hillary
“Obama Bans Hiring Bias Against Ex-Cons Seeking Federal Jobs”—headline,, Nov. 2

He Was a Carpenter, Not a Joiner
“Jesus Wouldn’t Join the NRA”—headline,, Oct. 30

Make That 9

  • “8 Delicious Sandwich Deals to Maximize National Sandwich Day”—headline,Gothamist, Nov. 3
  • “ ‘I’m a Grinder,’ Says Jeb Bush Promising to Become a Better Debater and Blaming the Media for Suggesting That His Campaign Lacked ‘Fire’ ”—headline,, Nov. 1

Make That 21

  • “20 Reasons Yummy Breakfast Is the Cat Even Cat Haters Will Love”—headline, BuzzFeed, Oct. 1, 2013
  • “Retired Lucerne Man Defends Eating Cats”—headline,, Nov. 2, 2015

The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

  • “This Rachel Maddow Interview Is Bernie Sanders’ Best Moment in Weeks”—headline, Salon, Nov. 7
  • “Netanyahu Calls Meeting With Obama ‘One of Best’ They’ve Had”—headline,Times of Israel, Nov. 9

Life Imitates ‘South Park’

  • “Tweek’s father . . . enters the room, offering the boys a propagandist speech against Harbucks, a national chain of coffee houses that was recently threatening his business. As he does this, Tweek’s gnomes steal the underpants from his dresser, but only Tweek sees them. . . . At the gnomes’ lair, the gnomes claim to be business experts and explain their business plan: Gnomes’ three-phase business plan: 1. Collect Underpants. 2. ? 3. Profit.”— plot summary for “Gnomes,” aired Dec. 16, 1998
  • “Company Launches Bernie Sanders-Inspired Underwear Line”—headline,Associated Press, Nov. 3, 2015

Generalissimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead

  • “ObamaCare Is Still Failing”—headline, Rich Lowry syndicated column, Nov. 3
  • “They Still Can’t Win Next Year: Bigots and Tea Party Wingnuts Prevailed Yesterday, but That Doesn’t Equate to President Carson”—headline, Salon, Nov. 4
  • “ ‘Star Wars’ Releases New Posters, but Luke Skywalker Still Nowhere in Sight”—headline, Daily News (New York), Nov. 4

Problem and Solution—I

  • “Hillary Clinton Seeks to Recapture Spirit of 2000 Campaign”—headline, New York Times, Nov. 1
  • “How About Al Gore?”—headline,, Oct. 5

Problem and Solution—II

  • “Chris Christie: If You Can’t Exert Bladder Control for Two Hours, Maybe You Shouldn’t Be President”—headline, Washington Times, Nov. 2
  • “Team Chris Christie Headquartered in Toilet”—headline, Gawker, Oct. 28

With DNC in Mind, City Bans Carrying Urine, Feces
“Hillary Campaign Staffers Got Locked in a Bathroom”—headline, New York Post, Oct. 29

Hypothesis and Proof—I

  • “Concealed Carry Is Harder When You’re Fat”—headline,, June 5, 2014
  • “Gunshots Help Deflate Runaway Military Blimp in Pennsylvania”—headline,, Oct. 29, 2015

Hypothesis and Proof—II

  • “The End of Retirement Is Near”—headline, Futurist magazine, ca. 1999
  • “Phil Collins Announces End of Retirement”—headline, WCVB-TV website, Oct. 29, 2015

Hypothesis and Disproof

  • “Climate Change Kills the Mood: Economists Warn of Less Sex on a Warmer Planet”—headline, Bloomberg, Nov. 2
  • “Researcher Quits After Sex Claims Against Ex-UN Climate Chief”—headline,Agence France-Presse, Nov. 4

So Much for the War on Drugs

  • “Giant ‘Crack’ Appears in the Earth Near Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains”—headline, KBZK-TV website, Oct. 29
  • “Pharmacy-Benefit Managers Deliver Blow to Valeant”—headline, Dow Jones Newswires, Oct. 29
  • “Hedge-Fund Prodigy Takes a $300 Million Hit”—headline, The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 9

“British Astronaut Tim Peake Will Eat Heston Bacon Sandwich on Christmas Morning”—headline, Daily Telegraph (London), Nov. 6

The Lonely Lives of Scientists
“Thanks to scientists, we now know which bacteria live on donkey genitalia:”—tweet, @DiscoverMag, Nov. 3

Hey, Kids! What Time Is It?
“Seventy-Five Years After Taranto”—headline, American Thinker, Nov. 8

Question and Answer—I

  • “Who Was That Ghost? Science’s Reassuring Reply”—headline, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 31
  • “Campaign Finance Caper? Hillary Clinton and the Ghost of Scandals Past”—headline,, Oct. 3

Question and Answer—II

  • “Do We All See the Same Colours?”—headline, BBC website, Feb. 14, 2012
  • “Sanders Camp Sees Red After Clinton Wins Key Green Endorsement”—headline,, Nov. 9

Question and Answer—III

  • “How Far Can Pigs Fly?”—headline,, Oct. 29
  • “When Democrats Vote Their Conscience, Bernie Sanders Will Defeat a ‘Moderate’ Hillary Clinton”—headline, Puffington Host, Nov. 2

Question and Answer—IV

  • “What Is . . . Microsurgery?”—headline, Daily Mirror (London), June 21, 2011
  • “Piers Morgan Vows He’ll Never Let Ben Carson Near His Brain”—headline,, Nov. 6, 2015

Question and Answer—V

  • “Can Washington’s Most Interesting Egghead Save the Senate?”—headline,, Nov. 3
  • “Sen. Mike Lee: American Egg Board, Others are Outdated, Outmoded”—headline,, Oct. 29

Question and Answer—VI

  • “Where Can Queer Muslims Go to Pray?”—headline,, Oct. 31, 2015
  • “Ways of the Orient. Queer Ideas About Alleviating Bodily Suffering. Magic Cures of the Turks.”—headline and subheadlines, Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph, Sept. 25, 1909

Question and Answer—VII

  • “Why Is the Episcopal Church Near Collapse?”—headline, BeliefNet, July 11, 2012
  • “Scientists Observe Wasps Evolving Into New Species”—headline, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 31, 2015

Look Out Below!
“Donald Trump Lifts ‘SNL’ to Highest Rating Since January 2012”—headline, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8

It’s Always in the Last Place You Look
“A Digital Team Is Helping Obama Find His Voice Online”—headline, New York Times, Nov. 9

Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out of Control
“Beer Consumption in Australia Is Falling at a Remarkable Pace”—headline,, Nov. 5

Breaking News From 1624
“Google Abandons Plan to Open First-Ever Retail Store in New York City”—headline, Crain’s New York Business, Nov. 2

Breaking News From 1979
“Carter: US in ‘Strategic Transition’ in Response to Russia, China”—headline, (Cape Town, South Africa), Nov. 8

Breaking News From 1995
“There’s an Amazon Bookstore Now”—headline,, Nov. 3

Breaking News From 1998
“Enjoy Your Honeymoon While It Lasts, Marco Rubio: Why the GOP’s Star Debater Still Isn’t Ready for Primetime”—headline, Salon, Oct. 29

Breaking News From 2000
“The AP on Yesterday’s Election Results: It’s a Tie!”—headline, Power Line Blog, Nov. 4

News You Can Use

  • “DOE Issues New Rule for Workers: Don’t Put Highly Enriched Uranium in Your Pocket”—headline,, Oct. 30
  • “Champagne DOESN’T Stop You From Developing Dementia (Unless You’re a Rat)”—headline,, Nov. 10

Bottom Story of the Day
“The Water Wars Are Coming: Civilization Will Never Survive Climate Calamity”—headline, Salon, Nov. 5

Martin O’Malley: Myth or Legend?
The treatment we received for our detached retina was an operation called a vitrectomy, which entails the removal of the vitreous humor from the eyeball’s posterior chamber. Speaking of a lack of humor . . .

Our Oct. 27 column, which concerned the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee and her primary challenger, featured a photo with the following caption: “Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and an unidentified man backstage at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.” On Nov. 5, Matt Gertz, research director for the Clinton oppo shop Media Mutters, tweeted an image of the photo with caption, with the comment: “Oh dear. This is a brutal photo caption.”

The unidentified man was actually Martin O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor. We knew that and were making a joke about his obscurity. That should have been obvious from the first paragraph, in which we referred to Mrs. Clinton and Sanders as “the two remaining candidates for the nomination apart from that other guy.” We’ve also referred to “Martin O’Malley, whoever he is,” and to “Lincoln Mercury and those other guys” (that one was short-lived).

It’s been said that a joke isn’t funny if you have to explain it. This is the exception that proves the rule. It’s possible that Gertz got the joke, though it’s Media Mutters so we doubt it. Either way, his tweet set off a miniature media feeding frenzy; between us, this columnist and our editor fielded queries from CNN, MSNBC, Politico and the Washington Post.

The Post and CNN actually ran stories; the former, which we’re told made it the lead item in one of its email newsletters, played it as actual news: “The photo that appeared on Taranto’s column was taken by an Associated Press photographer. Among the Twitter traffic Thursday was a tweet that noted O’Malley had been identified by name when the AP first distributed the photo.”

CNN’s Dylan Byers at least had some fun with it. His headline read: “WSJ’s Joke Finally Gets Martin O’Malley Some Attention.” From Byers we learned that Lis Smith, O’Malley’s deputy campaign manager and “communicator,” had tweeted in response to Gertz: “Media Matters [sic] staffer takes week old caption out of context. Unlike you, we got the joke. #MediaFails.”

The guys at Twitchy recognized the humor and produced a Twitter roundup titled “ ‘HAHAHAHHA YES!!!!!!’ WSJ’s ‘Brutal Photo Caption’ Just Made Our Day.” LaterTwitchy noted that the Puffington Host’s Sam Stein had quoted O’Malley at an event that evening: “Thanks to your support, we have firmly secured 3rd place and we are moving up.”

O’Malley, it would appear, is a liberal with a sense of humor. Which raises the question whether he actually exists.