Thursday, May 29, 2008

Elite is a four letter word

Why are we afraid of elite’s in our government? One of the more irrational fears that has gripped the American electorate for a long time is the fear of someone too much more qualified than themselves might take the office of president.

Listening to the pundits this weekend one of them mused (and I’m paraphrasing), “President Bush back in 2000 didn’t have a lot of the qualities people might look for in a leader but he seemed like the kind of guy you could have a beer with, and people responded to that.” They went on to talk further about President Clinton, whom after winning the democratic nomination was seen as too “learned” and elite, being from the Ivy league and being a Rhodes Scholar and all. They had to relaunch and reintroduce "the man from Hope" to make him more like everyone else. What is it about our politics that makes us strive for the mediocre? Why do we fear having our best and our brightest at the top of the heap? Why does Barack Obama have to constantly remind us that he ate Jello molds as a kid and that he’s just a regular guy who can drink a boilermaker like the rest of us. Why did Hillary Clinton have to throw back drinks in a Pennsylvania bar to prove that she was ready to commander in chief? Why did Al Gore lose in 2000 because he seemed like too much of a nerd? Our recent history is full of examples of extraordinary people of high accomplishment doing whatever they possibly could to avoid appearing stellar.

This practice of who can be the most folksy wouldn’t bother me so much except that it takes intelligent people and makes them say and do dumb things. The best recent example I can think of is Iran policy. The latest political football to get tossed around, Barack Obama has positioned himself as recently as last July as ready to talk with any foreign leader without preconditions. This stance is of course ludicrous. Preconditions and talks with lesser members of government are a pre-requisite of presidential meetings, as they well should be. Senator Obama knows that, and he knows that when he is President he will be able to justify not actually having meetings with rogue leaders because of the specific circumstances involved at any given time. This is a pander to the left, a way of saying, “no, no I am one of you, I really believe that if we all were to just talk that the problems would go away…”

John McCain of course has allowed his pander machine to run off course in the opposite direction. The world according to McCain is a very quiet one, because apparently we would only be talking to our staunchest allies. Presidential interest is a reward for only the best behavior. Under the McCain doctrine we would clam up with Hamas, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and even China (its a communist country, and a human rights violator). Of course that’s not really what’s going to happen. McCain is smart enough and experienced enough to know that with the proper circumstances it makes all the sense in the world to come to the table and discuss.

My only hope is that in all this hope to stop being elite, our candidates don’t lose their minds.

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