The scene from "All the President's Men" is memorable: from the Library of Congress rotunda we peer down on the concentric spirals of study desks, an eager and curious duo of Bob Woodward and Gordon Bernstein delving deep into our nation's greatest library – our font of knowledge – pulling disturbing and important facts from volume after volume of government documents, all to bring down a corrupt and unethical President.
How romantic. How romantic, indeed.
As a symbolic representation of our nation's Renaissance-like glory, the Library of Congress is a masterpiece. As an honor to the intellectual and curious nature of the American people, the Library of Congress is putting on a show, a charade, an ersatz tribute.
There exists an aversion to intellectualism in our country and it is heartbreaking. In our last election, Middle America demonstrably disdained our northeastern liberals, disdained their ivy-draped columns, disdained their intellectual superiority complexes. Is it any wonder why the last northeasterner to sit in the Oval Office was John Fitzgerald Kennedy? In Arizona, two-thirds of our state legislators do not hold college degrees. Their continual slashing of the education budget for Arizona public schools, including UA, is all too telling of their disregard for those who aspire to understand issues from multiple viewpoints. And please, in this regard, don't misunderestimate our President.
By no means is this a partisan issue, as America's aversion to intellectualism spans all political motivations. While watching a House subcommittee hearing on C-SPAN yesterday evening, I was appalled by the ineptitude of almost every Democrat and Republican that questioned the experts giving testimony. Only a Democrat delegate from the Virgin Islands (who does not have a vote in the House) and a Republican representative from Connecticut asked pertinent questions, while the rest knew only how to ramble incoherently.
Our nation faces serious problems in the years to come, problems which I fear one-issue politicians don't have the wherewithal to address. Elected politicians must respond to the electorate, and an electorate that lacks the desire to synthesize multiple factors when making decisions is a dangerous beast indeed. It allows for messy, uncompromising partisan politics in our nation's capital.
Case in point: the "religious" right. They claim that it is time to rollback Roe V. Wade, it is time to defend America from what Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, calls the "all-out assault on Christians being waged by our government, by America's educational institutions, by the media and throughout popular culture." And yet, isn't this the same group that advocates capital punishment and gun ownership? The last time I read the Bible, wasn't Jesus preaching tolerance, forgiveness and laying down one's arms? Would Jesus purchase a hunting rifle? I have my doubts.
Case in point: the "fair trade" left. They claim that multinational corporations, globalization, and sweatshops are destroying the very fabric societies are built upon, that protectionism is a viable economic model. However, the last time I checked, the United States had its own run-in with sweatshop working conditions a little over a century ago. Fifty years back, South Korea was ravaged by war and its economy was entirely composed of "sweatshops." Today, South Korea is a poster child for how foreign investment and globalization can catapult a nation into the ranks of the First World. Does the "fair trade" left understand that without multinationals, many people would not be working at all, as opposed to earning their dollar per day now? Do they understand that "fair trade" might be synonymous with the retardation of economic development? I have my doubts.
It is necessary that our leaders remain open-minded about issues, always searching for that Third Road. But, more importantly, it is necessary that our populace remain open-minded, because indeed it is the populace to which our leaders respond. A close-minded, self-righteous populace allows for a close-minded, self-righteous political elite.
In that vein, somebody please convince me that there is not a blaring contradiction in being pro-life for unborn children and pro-death for convicted criminals. Somebody please convince me that "fair trade" is not a feel-good way of keeping people impoverished.
As I sit here at Library of Congress Desk 109, statues of Shakespeare and Homer and Beethoven standing over me, these intellectual heavyweights leaving the burden of intellectual inquiry upon us, I can only ponder where our generation will push the bounds of knowledge and whether our politics will allow it. When we look at the petty squabbling occurring on Capitol Hill, we have only ourselves to blame.
Matt Stone is an international studies and economics junior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..