Desperate academics, red housewives and soaps, etc.

desRather than a series of separate blog items, here are three quick updates on recent items of interest (not including my finale — maybe — in the Incredibles paranoia trilogy).

First of all, Barnard College poli-sci professor Jeffrey Friedman has written a very level-headed essay in The New Republic responding to the “sneering” — that’s his word — New York Times piece about the hypocrisy of red-state voters who still like to watch trashy television shows, such as the neo-”City in the City” babes of Desperate Housewives.

Doug LeBlanc has already written on this Times piece, drawing some fine comments from readers. Still, Friedman updates the debate on several points. For starters, he really shows why it is time to drop all discussions of the red state-blue state divide, outside of specific issues linked to the Electoral College. You really have to talk about red counties and blue counties, or even zip codes. And the total number of “values voters” was actually rather small — even if strategic.

Enough already. Here is a major chunk of Friedman’s essay:

Pointing out instances of conservative hypocrisy has become something of a post-election pastime for liberals, and in this case, it might have some basis in fact, no matter how exaggerated the Times story made it seem — after all, there is surely at least some overlap between Bush values voters and Desperate Housewives fans. . . . Rather than attacking the specific policies promoted by values voters . . . the charge of hypocrisy attacks the voters themselves. But it’s an elementary point of logic that a claim’s validity is independent of the character of those who advocate it. A truth is a truth, no more or less true because of who believes it. The whole issue of hypocrisy, then, for all the importance it routinely assumes in political discourse, is a red herring.

If a professed atheist secretly worships God “just in case,” we’re entitled to say that he lacks the courage of his convictions. But we aren’t entitled to say that those convictions are false. God exists, or doesn’t exist, regardless of what any atheist secretly believes. The same goes for the beliefs of values voters: They are valid, or they aren’t, irrespective of whether a voter who believes in their validity succeeds in bringing them to bear when he turns on the TV set.

I think that is called “linear thought.” Bracing, isn’t it?

George F. Will has — surprise, surprise — weighed in on the issue of political liberalism on mainstream college and university campuses. Calling this revelation shocking is, he argues, a bit like a breaking news report with the headline: “Moon Implicated in Tides, Studies Find.” He also points toward information in a recent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education that I will try to get my hands on (I do not have an online subscription). Meanwhile, here is a rather typically dry Will comment:

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reports that in 2004, of the top five institutions in terms of employee per capita contributions to presidential candidates, the third, fourth and fifth were Time Warner, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. The top two were the University of California system and Harvard, both of which gave about 19 times more money to John Kerry than to George W. Bush.

But George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at Berkeley, denies that academic institutions are biased against conservatives. The disparity in hiring, he explains, occurs because conservatives are not as interested as liberals in academic careers. Why does he think liberals are like that? “Unlike conservatives, they believe in working for the public good and social justice.”

That clears that up.

I am fascinated by the surge of reporting on the fusion of Christmas and Hanukkah this year. As I mentioned earlier, I think there is more to this than timely public relations for online merchandise and a timely soap-opera news hook with The O.C.

Now, the topic has gone totally mainstream, with its own Associated Press report. How mainstream is this trend?

Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards Inc. says among its most popular categories of Hanukkah cards is the one that combines Jewish and Christian themes. The company tried the idea with just one card in the mid-90s; today they have four. . . .

American Greetings Corp. has also increased its Hanukkah-Christmas line offerings since its introduction eight years ago. There are around 10 this year. . . . Most of American Greetings’ Hanukkah-Christmas cards are humorous. . . . One shows three snowmen — two dressed in traditional winter hats and scarves, the third wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl. Another features a list of Hanukkah songs that never caught on, including “Shlepping Through a Winter Wonderland,” “Bubbie Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and “Come On, Baby, Light My Menorah.”

“We don’t go over the line,” said Pam Fink, who works on Jewish-themed cards for American Greetings. “We’re careful to make sure it’s lighthearted funny, but not too far.”

Come On, Baby, Light My Menorah? I guess it depends on how one defines “baby.”

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jeff the Baptist

    “Unlike conservatives, they believe in working for the public good and social justice.” If you could prove that a career in academia would do either, I might concede the point. As it is, you just gave me a good chuckle.

  • Kathy Shaidle

    This may be the Chronicle piece you mentioned; it was highlighted over at Arts & Letters Daily recently…

  • tmatt


    Thank you for running that down. That is indeed the piece. It opens as follows:

    Liberal Groupthink Is Anti-Intellectual


    Conservatives on college campuses scored a tactical hit when the American Enterprise Institute’s magazine published a survey of voter registration among humanities and social-science faculty members several years ago. More than nine out of 10 professors belonged to the Democratic or Green party, an imbalance that contradicted many liberal academics’ protestations that diversity and pluralism abound in higher education. Further investigations by people like David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, coupled with well-publicized cases of discrimination against conservative professors, reinforced the findings and set “intellectual diversity” on the agenda of state legislators and members of Congress.

  • CCV

    So if I follow correctly (re: Desperate Housewives), if I watch a Masterpiece Theatre production of say, Macbeth, AND I voted for Bush (because this “values voter” was concerned about future Supreme Court appointments and critical life issues), then I’m hypocritical because I clearly support murderous doubledealing wives like Lady M.?

    Yeah, I know Desperate Housewives isn’t Shakespeare. But if you eliminate sin from drama (highbrow or low), there’s not going to be much entertainment left, is there ;-)

  • Kathy Shaidle

    And didn’t himself Jesus have something to say about hypocrites…?

  • Maureen

    I would’ve liked to become an academic. I would’ve even liked to go to Berkeley for linguistics. But while I could reconcile myself to poverty and indentured servitude in service to the life of the mind, I really couldn’t stand the thought of living among so much anti-semitism, pompous self-congratulation, and lockstep conformity. During my campus visit, all the signs showed that I was going to be ignored and marginalized and have to pay for it as well, so I have few regrets.

    Libraries don’t have these flaws, so independent scholarship is clearly the superior way to learn.

    My only regret is that an independent scholar working for a living doesn’t have much chance to teach or discuss topics with interested others, or to learn experientially.

  • JoJo

    I wonder when the good Mr. Will plans to discuss the causes and effects of political uniformity in other institutions, such as the military or industries motivated entirely by financial gain.

  • Bruce Geerdes

    An ad from Virgin Mobile which merges even more into the pot — Happy Chrismahanukwanzaka.

  • Paul

    “I wonder when the good Mr. Will plans to discuss the causes and effects of political uniformity in other institutions, such as the military or industries motivated entirely by financial gain.”

    I think he won’t because there isn’t political “uniformity” in those areas–except in your overactive imagination. Are you suggesting that conservatives and Republicans dominate corporations that way the Left domininates academia? Get real!

  • JoJo

    Oh, right you are Paul. It never crossed my mind that you’ll find significant numbers of pacifists in the career military or altruistic self-sacrifice in Trump, Inc.

    OK, back to reality. Although Will errs in dismissing the cause for a liberal bias in academia (by dismissing career choice in favor of filtering the applicants), he makes a good point about what happens when diversity is missing. But it’s just plain silly to imply that this problem can only occur where left-wing bias predominates.

    Ironic, too, when a righty argues in favor of diversity. Situational principles, I guess. And this isn’t the first case where such hypocrisy occurs. Recall in the 2004 conventions when much was made about the Dems banning any pro-life folks from speaking whereas the GOP allowed pro-choicers on the podium. But right after the election we saw the GOP rake Senator Spector over the coals merely for being pro-choice, despite his assurances of supporting the party line and record of backing GOP court nominees. Meanwhile, who did the Dems select as their caucus leader in the Senate? A pro-life Mormon. Go figure…