Santorum decries attitudes of ‘smart people’

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The Values Voter Summit, the nation’s largest annual gathering for the religious right movement, wrapped up over the weekend, but not before Rick Santorum offered some memorable remarks.

For those who can’t watch clips online, the former senator candidate told the far-right audience, “We will never have the media on our side, ever, in this country. We will never have the elite smart people on our side, because they believe they should have the power to tell you what to do. So our colleges and universities, they’re not going to be on our side.” He also denounced “Hollywood,” where people think they can get Americans “to jump through the hoops they want you to.”

At a certain level, it’s tempting to think Santorum’s comments might seem insulting to conservatives. After all, he effectively argued that knowledgeable and influential Americans will always side with the left. Indeed, I imagine we’ll be hearing this joke for quite a while – in Santorum’s mind, conservatives aren’t “smart people.”

But in context, there was a larger point to Santorum’s argument, and it wasn’t intended to mock his fellow Republicans. Rather, Santorum urged his religious right audience to turn away from scholars, cultural forces, and the well-informed, and rely instead on churches and family members.

It’s an overly narrow, anti-intellectual perspective, but it’s not necessarily incoherent. Santorum sees a modern society becoming more progressive; he finds it intimidating and unfamiliar; and so Santorum seems to think he and those who share his ideology should accept the fact that this society will always be distinct from their own.

Some of this, to be sure, is Santorum feeling self-pity – a sense of victimization is a hallmark of his brand of conservatism – but this perspective is not unique to the failed presidential candidate.

Doug Mataconis had a good piece on this over the weekend at the center-right Outside the Beltway blog.

What Santorum said today is emblematic of rhetoric you hear quite frequently from people on the right such as Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity. Generally, the idea seems to be that there’s something about being intelligent, or curious about the world, or interested in something beyond the orthodox interpretations of history and the law that conservatives insist upon. You see it manifest itself in the rejection of even the rather obvious fact that humanity can have an influence on the environment around it and, most irrationally, in the very rejection of everything that biology, anthropology, physics, and cosmology teach us. For many on the right, it’s easier to believe in the stories written in a 6,000 year old book than it is in the evidence of just how amazing the universe around them actually is. They can believe whatever they want, of course, but the fact that they constantly try to force these beliefs on others, most especially through the public school system, makes their disdain for knowledge a matter of public concern. […]

It’s quite ironic that there’s an entire branch of conservatism that has come to this, because things were quite different when the modern conservative movement started.

Quite right. While there’s been a strain of anti-intellectualism on the right for a long while, it wasn’t too long ago that the conservative movement sought to bolster its scholarly bona fides with genuine substance and academic rigor.

Some of these voices still exist, but for Santorum and those at the Values Voter Summit, they are sell-out RINOs.

It’s preferable, they believe, to see “the elite smart people” as being hostile to “our side.” It’s a recipe for intellectual paralysis and political decline, but given the reaction over the weekend, it appears Santorum and those who cheered him on don’t care.

Religious Right and Rick Santorum

Santorum decries attitudes of 'smart people'

Updated