Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Intra-Republican Accreditation War

I’ve been droning on for some time, including just yesterday, about how one dimension of the ideological war between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats is a cultural fight over social accreditation. They’re battling not only over who has the better idea about how the political economy does and should work, but over whose opinions on that score are worthy of attention.

Recall the different reactions conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats had to John McCain’s decision to put Sarah Palin on the ticket in 2008. Conservatives, even the highbrow pundits at The Weekly Standard and National Review, took one look at her resume, with its suggestion of heartland common sense, and were eager to hear what she had to say. One look at Palin's resume was all it took to persuade liberal Democrats that she was only worth listening to for the purpose of diagnosing the socio-psycho pathologies afflicting the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

This passing remark by Rick Perry reminds us that the accreditation war is being fought, not only between Republicans and Democrats, but among conservative Republicans:
"‘I am Rick Perry and he is George Bush,’ Perry declared as he marched through the Iowa State Fair, surrounded by reporters. ‘And our records are quite different.’

"Asked what the biggest difference is, Perry responded: ‘I went to Texas A&M. He went to Yale.’"
There has always been an ideological dimension to social credentialing. Traditionally, conservatives and Republicans have cared more about the bourgeois virtues they associate with success in the marketplace than liberals and Democrats who’ve been more impressed by success in the academy and the white shoe professions. But, generally speaking, conservative Republicans haven’t been indifferent to the credentials that most impressed liberal Democrats.

George W. Bush used to joke about being an indifferent student at Yale and Harvard Business as a way of signaling conservatives that he couldn’t have cared less about what was said about him in faculty lounges and editorial conferences inside the mainstream media. But he still cared enough about establishment academic credentials to send a daughter to Yale. I doubt that it ever occurred to Bush when he contemplated running for president that his Yale and Harvard degrees cast a shadow over his conservative authenticity.

But that’s exactly the shadow Rick Perry is trying to cast over Bush, and by implication Mitt Romney, when he brandishes his Texas A&M degree as an ideological credential.

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