Last Thursday, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney attributed President Barack Obama’s alleged ineptitude to his having “spent too much time at Harvard, perhaps.” If learning at this university has the potential to dull one’s faculties, Romney must be speaking from experience. Not only has he earned more degrees than Barack Obama from Harvard, but, if he becomes president, he would be the most crimson commander-in-chief since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, class of 1902. Romney has not one, but two advanced degrees from this institution. He graduated from the joint J.D./M.B.A. program in 1975, and from there entered the business world. While President Obama spent three years here, Romney spent a total of four.
If Romney has indeed become aware of the deleterious effects of a Harvard education, it must have been a recent epiphany. Three of his sons attended Harvard for their M.B.A.s, suggesting either that their presence on this campus was an act of rebellion against their reluctant father, or that Romney has only caught on to the crippling effects of a Harvard education in the past few years. Then again, even this scenario seems doubtful. After all, Romney counts economics Professor N. Gregory Mankiw and Kennedy School Fellow Meghan O’Sullivan among his top advisers.
Most likely, Romney’s apparent change of heart towards his alma mater is an attempt to tap into anti-intellectual sentiment in order to rile the Republican base. Since he has a hard time impressing the far-right wing of the Republican Party with his pedigree, maybe Mr. Romney thinks he can fool them into only scrutinizing his opponent’s. But seriously, he’d have more luck trying to convince them that he’s always been “severely conservative.”
Although Romney’s recent conversion to anti-intellectualism may seem humorous, what it says about his candidacy is troubling. Although the Republican Party styles itself as the party of meritocracy, their appreciation for individual achievement seems to be rather limited. Academic and intellectual merit are regularly disparaged by Republican party leaders, even as they routinely exalt the value of hard work. Experience in academia—a field in which so many conservative luminaries have served—is mocked as not being “a real job.” It is no wonder that there is a dearth of Republicans in our nation’s top universities.
In the same breath that Republicans undermine the value of academic and intellectual accomplishment, they bristle when anyone speaks against the interest of those whose accomplishments have been financial. For example, any suggestion that those whose “real jobs” have brought them immense wealth ought to pay a more in taxes is decried as “punishing success.”
It speaks to the power of the extreme right in today’s Republican party that trash-talking academic achievement is de rigeur even for candidates who hail from Massachusetts, received two Harvard degrees, and are supposedly members of the Republican establishment. This is not simply anti-elitism, but anti-intellectualism. In an age when the nation’s problems are increasingly complex, requiring the kind of expertise that a good education provides, we cannot afford to mock those who pursue one.