Politics is everything

Today's Times has an extraordinary piece (behind firewall) on the politicization of the Surgeon's General's office . In brief, Richard H. Carmona, Surgeon General from 2002-2006 claims the White House repeatedly intervened in reports on and scientific analysis of emergency contraception, global warming and other hot-button topics. He even claims that administration officials did not want him to highlight the work of Special Olympics given that organization's close ties to the Kennedy family. (Eunice Kennedy and her husband Sargent Shriver founded Special Olympics in the late 1960s.)

Special Olympics will survive, although this won't help the President's poll ratings. But add this to what we now know about the politicization of Paul Bremer's office in Iraq (where appointees talk about being grilled, not on their knowledge of Iraqi society or command of Arabic, but Roe v. Wade and privatization) and the White House legal counsel and the Attorney General's attempt to purge "disloyal" (if often Republican) Federal prosecutors.

This level of politicization is new, I think, at least in the post WWII era. How do we explain it? I think it stems from the genuine isolation conservative intellectuals felt from mainstream establishment institutions -- i.e. the universities, the courts, the churches, the government -- by the 1970s, and the contempt they developed for the same. These conservatives, much to their credit, drew upon corporate money and built some of their own institutions (notably think tanks) and became far more adept than liberals at the art of the polemic. (The Ur text here is Lewis Powell's fasinating 1971 memo about liberalism in the "respectable elements of society" and the need for corporate America to challenge these views. What's striking in that memo, given the situation today, is the complete absence of any discussion of abortion.) But has this deep suspicion of institutions left some conservatives predisposed to view *all* questions and programs as ideological?

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

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