Dick Armey, intellectuals, and the Jews

I doubt that House majority leader Dick

Armey is going to go down in history as a great intellectual heavyweight.

His weapon of choice is more the sledgehammer than the scalpel, and

his less-than-subtle pronouncements on the Palestinian question have

got him into trouble

in the past.

In an interesting twist, however, the man who was accused just a few

months ago of calling for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is now

being accused

of anti-Semitism. In a discussion in Florida in front of a largely Jewish

audience, he said that there were two types of Jewish Americans: those

with "deep intellect", who work in "occupations of the

brain" like engineering, science and economics; and liberals, with

"shallow, superficial intellect", who work in "occupations

of the heart". He meant artists, not cardiac surgeons.

Florida is the center of the fight between Democrats and Republicans

for the Jewish vote, which has historically been overwhelmingly Democratic.

Over the past year, however, the Republican rhetoric of pre-emptive

action against Arabs who want to kill us has resonated with many in

the Jewish community. Hence Armey’s presence at the discussion, and

hence the Democrats’ gleeful response.

Much of the debate is extremely boring: just as socialists used to

call anybody who disagreed with them a "fascist", now Republicans

and foreign-policy hawks are using "anti-Semite" even against

prominent Jewish Zionists such as Gerald Kaufman. So if the tables are

being turned and Dick Armey is getting a taste of his own side’s rhetoric,

I don’t really mind, even if it’s clear that he’s no more anti-Semitic

than Kaufman is.

What’s much more interesting is Armey’s non-apology apology the following

day, when he told reporters he was simply making a broader point about

liberals’ wrong-headedness. "If you were a southern Anglo Baptist

liberal, I promise you I would say you were not well educated and probably

not a very deep thinker, because that’s what liberals are," he


"Liberals are, in my estimation, just not bright people. They don’t

think deeply, they don’t comprehend, they don’t understand a partial

derivative, they have a narrow educational base as opposed to the hard


Southern Anglo Baptist liberal? Who could Armey possibly be thinking

of? Surely not the world’s most famous Rhodes scholar, the man who even

conservatives agree was one of the most intelligent presidents ever?

Whatever else you might accuse him of, being "not well educated"

and "just not bright people" seems a bit of a stretch. But

even putting that to one side, it’s an interesting piece of rhetoric.

It fits into the famous Charles Krauthammer thesis

that conservatives think that liberals are stupid. Liberals, of course,

don’t believe the opposite: we might oppose everything Condi Rice stands

for, we might think she’s wrong, but we don’t think she’s dumb.

I’ve even known a couple of bright right-wingers personally: one, a

distant relation, was Keith Joseph, the house intellectual of the Thatcher


More interestingly, however, Armey has taken the standard Democratic/Republican

distinction and overlaid it onto CP Snow’s "two cultures"

distinction between the humanities and the sciences. In his book, it

would seem, the liberal arts are the Liberal arts, and the basic conservative

laws of science (mass, energy, momentum) are actually Conservative as


It’s quite a brave thing to say, especially in this most anti-intellectual

of administrations. (Somehow I doubt that George W Bush is a whizz with

partial derivatives.) It also goes against the standard dumbbell view

of Democratic voters: that they’re generally either very smart or very

stupid, while the GOP gets the broad mass in the middle.

And, in the final analysis, it’s very unlikely to be true. The most

left-wing university in Britain has historically always been the London

School of Economics. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

is made up of nothing but hard scientists, and is hated by all self-respecting

conservatives. What’s more, scientists tend to work in universities,

and universities are generally very liberal places. If voting were confined

only to those people who understand partial derivatives, I think the

Democrats would be very happy: they could finally make political capital

out of the astonishing mess that is president Bush’s economic policy.

Does Armey know this, deep down, do you think? Probably not: for all

his posturing, he’s not really a scientist, he’s merely a former

economics professor. That’s why he chose proficiency with partial derivatives

as his metric for whether one belongs on the side of Einstein or that

of Shakespeare. I’m sure he’s very good at them: economists usually

are. But they’re also very good at getting into lengthy, heated and

incoherent debates with each other. Maybe that’s how Armey got his present

lofty position in politics.

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2 Responses to Dick Armey, intellectuals, and the Jews

  1. charlie says:

    Dick Armey is a nice man! He stands up for what he thinks is right! Others in Washington are scared to do this.

  2. jim dandy says:

    well, i’ve asked the same question of our present resident in the whitehouse. eh? you betcha!

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