We live at a time that might be appropriately called the age of the disappearing intellectual, a disappearance that marks with disgrace a particularly dangerous period in American history. While there are plenty of talking heads spewing lies, insults and nonsense in the various media, it would be wrong to suggest that these right-wing populist are intellectuals. They are neither knowledgeable nor self-reflective, but largely ideological hacks catering to the worst impulses in American society. Some obvious examples would include John Stossel calling for the repeal of that "section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination in public places." And, of course, there are the more famous corporate-owned talking heads such as Glenn Beck, Charles Krauthammer, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, all of whom trade in reactionary world views, ignorance, ideological travesties and outlandish misrepresentations - all the while wrapping themselves in the populist creed of speaking for everyday Americans.
In a media scape and public sphere that view criticism, dialog and thoughtfulness as a liability, such anti-intellectuals abound, providing commentaries that are nativist, racist, reactionary and morally repugnant. But the premium put on ignorance and the disdain for critical intellectuals is not monopolized by the dominant media, it appears to have become one of the few criteria left for largely wealthy individuals to qualify for public office. One typical example is Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who throws out inanities such as labeling the Obama administration a "gangster government." Bachmann refuses to take critical questions from the press because she claims that they unfairly focus on her language. She has a point. After all, it might be difficult to support statements such as the claim that "the US government used the census information to round up the Japanese [Americans] and put them in concentration camps." Another typical example can be found in Congressman Joe Barton's apology to BP for having to pay for damages to the government stemming from its disastrous oil spill.
This "upscaling of ignorance" gets worse. Richard Cohen, writing in The Washington Post about Sen. Michael Bennett, was shocked to discover that he was actually well-educated and smart but had to hide his qualifications in his primary campaign so as to not undermine his chance of being re-elected. Cohen concludes that in politics, "We have come to value ignorance."