Articles, Princeton writings September 28, 2004

A budding academic’s take on why academics support Kerry

by Kai Chan

Your friends, as they say, are the best judges of your character. Indeed, a healthy dose of criticism is cathartic, and heeding the advice of friends is a quality we all need. Besides, as the Biblical verse says, people cannot see the plank in their own eyes.

Recently, a poll cited by the BBC showed that worldwide support for the presidency favored Kerry. Among the 35 countries surveyed, only Nigeria, the Philippines and Poland preferred Bush.

Regardless of differences in world opinion over Iraq and how the war on terrorism is being fought, Americans should remember that these disagreements are over politics, and not with Americans themselves.

Among traditional allies such as Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan — of which, two backed the Iraq war — John Kerry was preferred by up to 66 percent over George W. Bush. In Canada Kerry is up 61 to 16 percent. In France, it’s 64 to five. In the United Kingdom, Kerry leads by 47 to 16 percent, and in Japan, Bush is down 32 to 43 percent. But the margin is largest in Germany: Kerry outpaces Bush 76 to 10 percent.

So why is the world so staunchly behind Kerry? And for that matter, why are Princeton professors — and academics, in general — so overwhelmingly in support of Kerry? At M.I.T. political contributions were 94 percent in favor of Kerry; at Harvard it was 96 percent.

As an up-and-coming academic who, if given the chance (I am not an American citizen), would vote for Kerry, let me explain my position.

I cannot support a candidate who used his privilege to evade fighting in Vietnam, and then attacks another who volunteered and fought honorably. Regardless of the authenticity of the “60 Minutes” papers, the fact remains that Kerry served while Bush shirked.

I cannot support a candidate who, in spite of all the chaos and impending anarchy in Iraq, pretends that things are rosy. I cannot support a candidate who alienates all of his allies, only to come asking for help when things turn sour. And where, may I ask, is Osama bin Laden?

The thoughts of academics are best expressed by Charles Bailyn, a professor of astronomy at Yale, responding to why professors are staunchly backing Kerry: “Perhaps because teaching and research require open-mindedness, reasoning from facts rather than from ideology, nuanced interpretation of complex situations and the ability to change one’s mind — all traits that the Bush team has displayed less of than any [other] administration.”

George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 as a “compassionate conservative.” Yet his actions over the last four years are anything but. He has shown little compassion for the over 1,000 soldiers who have died in Iraq. He cut veteran benefits by $25 billion over the next 10 years — is that what he calls “supporting our troops”? And why aren’t the Bush twins serving in Iraq if it’s such a just war? And he is certainly not a conservative. According to many economists, he is the most fiscally irresponsible president to ever occupy the White House.

As a budding economist, I am especially angry at Bush with his fiscal policies. He has been so dishonest about government spending that it makes me cringe: He lied about the cost of the war; he lied about deficit projections; and he lied about who benefits from his tax cuts. (His tax cuts are coming at the expense of veterans and the so-called Social Security “surplus.”)

At the end of the day, from a very self-interested point of view, some of us would benefit from Bush’s tax cuts (they accrue to the wealthy), and just as much, it is not we who have to fight in Iraq, save, perhaps, those who serve bravely on ROTC. But in my years here at Princeton, the one thing that I have learned is that a real “Princeton man” or “Princeton woman” is not selfish. If anything, she wears compassion on her sleeves, and is intelligent enough to see through administration falsehoods, unlike many Americans. According to a Newsweek poll, 42 percent of Americans think Saddam Hussein was “directly involved” in the 9/11 attacks. Such fabrications persist in the minds of Americans because of the Bush team’s policy of making false statements only to recant quietly at a later date.

Anyhow, please go out and vote on Nov. 2, regardless of your political preference. But do so with thought, not ideology. And remember the adage: If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

Kai Chan is an economics graduate student from Toronto, Canada.

The Daily Princetonian: “A budding academic’s take on why academics support Kerry”

Published: Tuesday, September 28th, 2004


Comments 1
  • Readers’ responses to “A budding academic’s take on why academics support Kerry”

    Real question is why the academy is so liberal

    Regarding ‘A budding academic’s take on why academics support Kerry’ (Sept. 28):

    The real question is, Why is the academy so liberal? The lockstep liberalism seems to puzzle many people but I believe it is very understandable. Academics live a privileged, isolated environment where most actually “work” less than 10 hours a week for nine months per year, where many have absolute job guarantees through tenure. They have jobs where they are paid an amount disproportionate to their work hours. They have jobs where there is no constraint on what their institutions charge, with education costs rising disproportionately to cost of living.

    In short, the academic life is not, in many respects, a life of accountability. It is ironic that the concept of tenure, which was intended to protect academic freedom and diversity of opinion, has had exactly the opposite effect. It has helped to produce the current bastion of liberalism in the academy, one of the only places left in America where Marxism and socialism have any credibility as a philosophy for organizing society.

    There may be at least a partial cure for this situation: Require that every tenured faculty member work at least six months in the real world: say, milking cows or wiring a house-for at least six months every three years.

    Elwin Fraley ’57

    Professors aren’t the ones out of touch with reality

    Regarding ‘Real question is why the academy is so liberal’ (Letter, Sept. 30): It’s strange that the writer refers to academics as a privileged elite, out of touch with reality, considering the leader of the conservative party is himself a member of the privileged class in America, having attended elite private institutions his entire life and having never to do what the writer calls real world work to make a living. Let’s not confuse leisurely ranch work with what most farmers and ranchers have to do get by in today’s world.

    In addition, the leader of the conservative party has openly and unabashedly claimed that the elite and privileged of society are in fact his party’s base.

    One can hardly assert that privilege and job security lead to one being liberal minded, as this has hardly been the trend in America.

    The writer also fails to give credit to the contributions many academics make to society through their studies. While they may not be contributing to society by milking cows and wiring homes, the contributions they make to the various fields of academic study enrich our culture immensely, and the time and energy many put back in to the communities in which they live cannot be measured by most real world work standards. Professors like Eddie Glaude GS ’97 and Cornel West GS ’80, who spend their summers providing higher level educational opportunities for students from less privileged regions, or Professor Andrew Bocarsley, who spends countless hours helping to train science teachers in new and innovative approaches to teaching science contribute greatly to society.

    Perhaps the writer should consider a correlation between levels of education achieved and intellect, and political affiliation. For tenured professors, it could very likely be their high levels of education and intense academic study that lead to more liberal attitudes towards politics and society, rather than any form of comfort they may have earned through their intellectual pursuits.

    Just something to consider.

    Rachel Miller ’05

    My original response when I was a columnist for the Daily Princetonian:

    I worked off and on with my father, a general contractor, from the age of 14 to 20. So I, in fact, have plenty of experience putting up dry wall, applying grout, welding pipes, working with wiring and a whole host of other “real” activities. Additionally, I worked 2 years bussing tables, 4 years serving food and 2 years pouring people’s drinks. Add on another half year of stocking the shelves of a large supermarket during the graveyard shift and I’d call that real work. Can the writer say the same? Please do not stereotype all Princeton academics as aloof elites; you just might have to eat your words.

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