03 December 2008

Richard Nixon vs. the Professoriat

In recently released tapes we hear the 37th President railing against the intellectuals who declined to endorse his strategies in Vietnam.

On May 17, 1972, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met “with Ivy League college presidents [. . .] in the aftermath of the President's decision to mine Haiphong harbor and escalate bombing in North Vietnam on May 8, 1972” (Nixon Archives). The following day, Nixon and Kissinger discussed the meeting, in which Nixon said:

The Ivy League presidents? Why, I'll never let those sons-of-b------ in the White House again. Never, never, never. They're finished. The Ivy League schools are finished ... Henry, I would never have had them in. Don't do that again ... They came out against us when it was tough ... Don't ever go to an Ivy League school again, ever. Never, never, never." (MSNBC)

Seven months later, on December 14, he reiterated his contempt for, and suspicion of, academics (as well as other groups):

Never forget," Nixon tells national security adviser Henry Kissinger in a taped Oval Office conversation revealed Tuesday. "The press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy.

"Professors are the enemy," he repeated. "Write that on a blackboard 100 times and never forget it." (AP).

According to transcripts, when Kissinger points out that he is a professor. When Nixon seems not to notice Kisinger's rebuttal, Kissinger quickly agrees with Nixon about his views on the press” (Nixontapes).

The diktat that “the professors are the enemy,” and distrust of academia (the implication that intellectuals are somehow “unAmerican”), may not have originated with Nixon, but he certainly grounded it within the Republican conscience. Nixon's paranoia manifested in the party ten years later when conservatives began airing their perception that an "adversary culture of intellectuals” existed. In reaction, thinkers such as Irving Kristol emphatically embraced populism, this move, however, as Mark Lilla argues in The Wall Street Journal, might well have led to the death of the Conservative intellectual tradition.

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