Where have all the thinkers gone? No wonder our politics is a mess


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The new slim Republican majority in the House of Representatives lacks something besides a leader. It lacks intellectual depth.

The Reagan administration may have been the last one to challenge Americans to think for themselves and for that matter just to think. Perhaps this lack of thinking and intellectual depth in our politics is caused by instruments and websites that do the thinking for us. We now tune in to whatever newspaper, cable network or website reinforces our beliefs and care little about how ideas were developed, whether they work and who benefits most from them.

Growing up and into my journalism career, some of my intellectual idols were William F. Buckley Jr., William Rusher, Milton and Rose Friedman, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Gertrude Himmelfarb, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, M. Stanton Evans and Russell Kirk. Most are now gone and even the few who remain are largely ignored by academic and cultural institutions that promote a singular, secularist and leftist worldview.

Just as on the right, the left also has non-thinkers like Nancy Pelosi.

Conservative publications I read with some regularity included National Review, Commentary, American Spectator and later The Washington Times, Imprimis, Crisis and National Affairs. These appear almost exclusively to be the reading choices of like-minded people. Reinforcement is OK to a point, but it stifles growth if you can’t understand and possibly even come to believe opposing points of view. How will you comprehend them if you don’t read them?

Liberals, too, have been robbed of their intellectual giants. Recall Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.) and publications like the once-great New York Times before it mostly became a mouthpiece for all things secular and liberal, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and just about anything written by Frank Rich.

Debates between liberal and conservative intellectuals were brain food for many Americans. “Firing Line,” on which Buckley hosted some of his favorite liberal friends, including the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Gore Vidal and James Baldwin, was must-see TV.

Today we see the antithesis of conservative intellectuals, including (but not limited to) Donald Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), election denier Kari Lake, Rep. George Santos (R-NY), who achieved the dubious distinction of becoming corrupt before even entering office, and a host of others whose intellectual depth is as thin as floor wax.

There are non-thinkers on the left, too, including “The Squad,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), among many others, but this adds to my point.

Where have all the intellectuals gone? Long time passing. How do we get them back? By starting in the schools with real ideas and concepts being taught by non-woke teachers or in private schools or in the growing home-school movement. Have students read the classics, the Constitution and Federalist Papers, instead of books promoting various cultural fads and political agendas.

National Review editor William F. Buckley.
William F. Buckley was one of many intellectuals we no longer see in our politics today.
Bettmann Archive

There should be universal school choice with parents given help to send their children to schools where they can get a real education and learn to think for themselves, instead of parroting what has been imposed on them.

There’s a proverb that seems to make my point: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). While some theologians say this verse is about human relationships, it might also be applied to intellectual pursuits. Just as playing tennis or golf with someone better than yourself can improve your game, so does keeping company with smarter people — and particularly those with different points of view — make you sharper and better able to vote intelligently and elect people more worthy of holding public office than many who are currently in elective positions or campaigning for them.

It’s not that difficult a concept to grasp if you just think about it.

Cal Thomas’ latest book is “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires and Superpowers and the Future of the United States.”

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