Ted Cruz, the populist egghead

When Republican Sen. Bob Corker sought to discredit Cruz’s strategy to defund Obamacare by pushing a budget showdown, he tweaked him about his education. “I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton, but I can count—the defunding box canyon is a tactic that will fail and weaken our position,” said Corker. After the gambit failed, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid sounded the same theme: “[Sen. Cruz] might be able to work a calculus problem better than I can. But he can’t legislate better than I can.” The junior Texas senator’s strategy, wrote conservative columnist John Podhoretz, gave “flesh to George Orwell’s warning that some ideas are so stupid, only an intellectual could believe in them.”

It is usually the self-styled populist who levels the egghead charge. George Wallace complained about “pointy-head college professors, who can’t even park a bicycle straight.” Historian Richard Hofstadter traced the tradition of anti-intellectualism through the American experience, but in the modern age the attack was first effectively used by Dwight Eisenhower and his running mate Richard Nixon in the 1952 presidential race against Adlai Stevenson. Ike accused the former Illinois governor of using “aristocratic explanations in Harvard words,” which he associated with Stevenson’s “faintness at heart.” (After his defeat, Stevenson famously joked: “Eggheads of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your yolks.”) When Nixon became president, one of his special tirades was directed at Ivy League presidents who had not seen things his way on Vietnam: “The Ivy League presidents? Why I’ll never let those sons of bitches in the White House again. Never, never, never. They’re finished. The Ivy League schools are finished.”

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