Just when you think it’s impossible to improve on the bar scene in Star Wars, the House of Representatives ends its summer session with a script that would have put Steven Spielberg to shame. Although blows were not exactly exchanged, there was enough mayhem on the floor to raise the chamber’s collective blood pressure—not a good idea for the smattering of sexagenarians not above shouting their displeasures to the presiding officer, Representative Mike McNulty.
The issue in question—food stamps for illegal aliens—is not as important as the way the House treated it. The fracas on the floor provided the country and the world with a disgraceful spectacle of how fervid and often-vicious partisanship in Congress has trumped civility and any sense of shared purpose concerning the national interest. All that was needed to complete the scenario was a modern equivalent to Congressman Preston Brooks, who a century-and-a-half ago wielded a gold-headed cane to pummel Senator Charles Sumner 30 or more times, plunging the older fire-breathing orator into a coma for three years. Tensions were high then, too; this sorry event occurred shortly before the Civil War, which, ominously, was perhaps the last time that tempers ran as hot, that animosities went so deep.
But recent cries of “Shame! Shame!” have not been confined to the overheated House Chamber. If Congress can’t provide enough inspiration for Hollywood’s next venture into surrealism, a stopover at the University of Colorado might just do the trick. There one may visit disgraced and recently dismissed professor Ward Churchill, formerly of the Department of Ethnic Studies at a university whose former president hinted at implications of McCarthyism in the institution’s treatment of this pious and noisy fraud. The problem is that America’s university system is filled with Ward Churchills, who for the past generation have spread hate speech about the country that pays their salaries, provides them with gullible minds to pollute, and offers terrific pensions to boot. Another movie image springs to mind, especially as one travels across country from the west to the east coast: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Congress and academia are two of the most important and dysfunctional institutions in the United States today; the question is how each of these vital centers of American civilization descended to their current levels of abrasiveness and intellectual rot. An answer is suggested by looking at the practices of the old Soviet Politburo, whose new members were picked by serving members, which virtually guaranteed continued institutional decrepitude and intellectual sloth. Multiply this method of recruitment to a country of some 290 million citizens, and you get a good idea why the whole system eventually imploded.
How does this comparison apply to Congress and academia, especially since members of the former institution are popularly elected? The problem with election to the House of Representatives is that a generation of congressional and judicially approved gerrymandering has resulted in a situation, in which, in the words of political scientist James P. Pfiffner, “instead of voters choosing their candidates, candidates choose their voters.” In national terms, we have a very competitive two-party system, but this is based on a foundation of uncompetitive districts, upwards of 90 percent of which are considered “safe” for the incumbents. I once had a conversation with a House member about some of the nuttier views of his colleagues. He winked at me and said: “If you think they’re goofy, you ought to see their constituents!”
As far as higher education is concerned, the left-wing bias of professors in the humanities and social sciences especially has been sufficiently well-documented. It seems many academics value “diversity” in skin color, ethnicity, and even gender, but not where it counts the most: in the world of ideas. Intellectual cowardice explains this pattern, along with the politburo method of recruitment. Why are there so many Ward Churchills, as David Horowitz and others have pointed out? Because they’re chosen by committees of Ward Churchills and accountable to no one.
All of which means that if America is to reform its politburo institutions, two conclusions must be reached: first, politics is too important to be left to the politicians, and higher education is too vital to be left in the hands of professors. Only then can the country advance beyond the politics of ideological fisticuffs and the academics of radicalism and indoctrination.