The Right Coast

February 22, 2004
Mad about you
By Tom Smith

I think it's safe to conclude from this post that the folks over at the examined life blog at mad at me. They call me only "Mr. Smith" when I should have thought "Professor Smith" would have been more courteous, but why stand on ceremony?

I have to admit I find all the advice from those on the left about how conservatives should properly complain about being discriminated against rather confusing. It has to be done, apparently, very intelligently, very carefully, with all due deference to proper standards and one should be very careful never to get angry about it. I have actually given some thought to the question "What are those on the right to do about their marginalized place in the academy?" and I not only don't see any easy answers; I don't see any answers at all. I think all there is to do really is try to build alternative institutions and take advantage of those. Places such as AEI, Heritage, Hoover (is Stanford still trying to get rid of it?) provide homes where people with verbotten ideas can still speak freely. And I suppose Catholic universities such as the one I am a tenured professor at, oddly enough, provide freedom to those who happen to agree with much of what the Church espouses. I have found a warm, dry, cosy and even very scenic bridge under which to sleep. (And just so you don't feel too sorry for me, I have turned down what many would see as more prestigious gigs because I like my little spot in the sun.)

Be that as it may, in my rants about left and liberal academics not getting it about discrimination against conservatives, I am not trying to be especially clever, and no doubt succeeding in not being so. I think the justice of my position speaks for itself. It is wrong, and especially wrong for people and institutions that are supposed to committed to the truth, to take advantage of their positions to keep out their ideological competitors. Predictable, of course. But still wrong. Efforts to make it so much more complicated than that just distract from the issue.

I am struck by the parallels between the sorts of justifications those on the left come up with for the plight of conservatives, with the arguments one used to hear about blacks and Jews. When I see what looks to me as somebody posing as reasonable by saying he doesn't personally believe conservatives are stupid, it reminds me of someone at an all-white club holding forth oh-so-liberally that he does not think blacks are actually stupid. If I was overly sensitive in getting that impression from the post I reacted to at the examined life blog, I'm sorry. But I am sensitive about it. I am just one of many conservative libertarian sorts who have been excluded from consideration for academic jobs I was well qualified for because of my politics. For example, more than fifteen years ago, the distinguished legal scholar Charles Allen Wright of the University of Texas called my note editor at Yale, Penny Rostow (neice of the distinguished late former dean of Yale Law School) to ask about me and whether I was, as rumored, a conservative. As Penny told me, she "didn't feel she could deny it." Professor Wright said that was unfortunate, as in that event my candidacy could go no further. It was just that simple, and I got the feeling Wright genuinely regretted this, but that was just the way it was. I think this is just like their finding out that that some otherwise qualified canditdate was a Jew, although he could "pass," back in the bad old days at White & Case or one of the other white-shoe Wall Street firms, where they worried about "the cut of a man's jib." (Don't get that reference? A jib is the foremost sail on yacht, shaped roughly like a nose. Its cut is its shape. Not liking the shape of a person's nose is slang for saying you don't like him because he's a Jew. Nice, huh? And the answers to this discrimination have names like Skadden, Arps and Paul, Weiss, which rank well above White & Case in every recent survey of law firms I have seen.)

Whether it does much good, and even though I doubt that it will, I think discrimination against conservatives should be seen as just as ugly as it is, as belonging in the same category as discrimination against blacks, Jews, Catholics or gays. Liberals pride themselves on being especially fair-minded and moral, so it is especially appropriate to point this out to them. I am not sure conservatives have a lot to gain by not being prickly about it. There is that field versus house conservative debate. But to all my liberal friends who feel insulted by my rants, I would say, first, imagine an insult that actually has a big impact on your life prospects and how that feels, and then second, I would use one of the arguments used against conservatives: In the scheme of things, to feel insulted by conservatives who are mad about being discrimated against is really pretty trivial in the scheme of things, isn't it?