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The Anti-Intellectual Presidency

Elvin Lim (PPE, 1997)

How is it that contemporary presidents talk so much and yet say so little, as H. L. Mencken once described, like "dogs barking idiotically through endless nights?" In The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, Elvin Lim tackles this puzzle and argues forcefully that it is because we have been too preoccupied in our search for a "Great Communicator," and have failed to take presidents to task for what they communicate to us.

Lim argues that the ever-increasing tendency for presidents to crowd out argument in presidential rhetoric with applause-rendering platitudes and partisan punch-lines was concertedly implemented by the modern White House. Through a series of interviews with former presidential speechwriters, he shows that the anti-intellectual stance was a deliberate choice rather than a reflection of presidents' intellectual limitations. Only the smart, he suggests, know how to "dumb down."

Because anti-intellectual rhetoric impedes, rather than facilitates communication and deliberation, Lim warns that Americans must do something to recondition a political culture so easily seduced by smooth-operating anti-intellectual presidents. Sharply written and incisively argued, The Anti-Intellectual Presidency sheds new light on the murky depths of presidential utterances and its consequences for American democracy.

If you would like to buy Elvin Lim's book you can do so on the OUP website.

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