Professor bemoans the stupidity of his ‘teabagger’ students

Mike Riggs Contributor
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The usually impressive Inside Higher Ed today runs an unusually insipid piece about the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting. In addition to panels like Footnotes: Pros and Cons, Why We Are Still Relevant, and Should Dogs Be Allowed in the Office?, there was apparently a delightful rant session on reinterpreting the New Deal:

Panelist Robert S. McElvaine, who is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters and chair of the department of history at Millsaps College, focused on the argument – made, he said, by many conservatives today – that the failure of the New Deal to end the Great Depression shows that government spending isn’t the way to revive a slumping economy. “The most important thing to realize,” said McElvaine, “is that so-called conservatives – I prefer to call them ‘regressives’ ” – have long been trying to “restore the conditions that created the Great Depression in the first place.”

“These are people of faith,” McElvaine continued, “and their basic faith is in the market as God.”

President Obama, McElvaine said, has taken “flak for saying we need to spread the wealth a little, but that’s true, not just in a moral sense but in an economic sense.” People have got to have money to buy things, he said, in order to keep the economy strong. (Social Darwinism, he added, “should be called ‘antisocial Darwinism.’ ”)

Talk about inflammatory! And wrong, even! Yours truly, for instance, worships blown glass and Funyuns, not the market or God. For a guy who has written “seven books” and “been a guest on approximately 75 television and radio programs,” McElvaine isn’t one for nuance. Do you think he says the same thing over and over again in his classes? “You there, with the Ron Paul sticker on your laptop, FDR is a saint and Amity Shlaes ate paint chips as a child. WRITE THAT DOWN!”

And then there’s this:

The idea that New Deal history offers a very specific set of lessons for our own time came up again during the Q&A period, when one attendee – Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, a historian with the NASA Johnson Space Center who also works as an adjunct instructor for the University of Maryland University College – asked the panelists about how to handle “students who are attracted to the arguments of the teabaggers.”

“Basically I try to present facts,” McElvaine said. Still, he acknowledged, “to some people, facts are irrelevant.”

So, kudos to the very professional Jennifer Ross-Nazzal for using a slur at an academic convention–this is 2010 and it would have been obnoxiously prudish and uptight of her to say “Tea Party movement” instead of “teabaggers”–and double kudos to McElvaine for providing his fact-hating students with the incentive to spit their gum in his open grade book and then slam it shut next time he turns around to snort another line of John Kenneth Galbraith’s dried blood!