Friday, October 3, 2008

Elitism in Politics

Call me crazy, but I am all in favor of having elitists run the political scene in our country. You know, guys like McCain, who have become quite spectacular at what they do, brimming with knowledge, depth of insight, and so forth. Electing someone for their colloquialisms on the other hand, seems foolish. Electing someone because they are "just like me" seems absurd.

Sam Harris writes, in Newsweek,

The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin's lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country....

...Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence.

What I found so appealing about the McCain campaign prior to the Palin pick was the experience of John McCain compared to the inexperience of Barack Obama. Now, however, a new element has entered my decision making, and that is the other qualities of Obama, especially the ones that distinguish him from Palin.

As Charles Krauthammer writes,

In the primary campaign, Obama was cool as in hip. Now Obama is cool as in collected. He has the discipline to let slow and steady carry him to victory. He has not at all distinguished himself in this economic crisis -- nor, one might add, in any other during his national career -- but detachment has served him well. He understands that this election, like the election of 1980, demands only one thing of the challenger: Make yourself acceptable. Once Ronald Reagan convinced America that he was not menacing, he won in a landslide. If Obama convinces the electorate that he is not too exotic or green or unprepared, he wins as well....

...He's been moderate in policy and temper ever since. His one goal: Pass the Reagan '80 threshold. Be acceptable, be cool, be reassuring.

Part of reassurance is intellectual. Like Palin, he's a rookie, but in his 19 months on the national stage he has achieved fluency in areas in which he has no experience. In the foreign policy debate with McCain, as in his July news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama held his own -- fluid, familiar and therefore plausibly presidential.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously said of Franklin Roosevelt that he had a "second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament." Obama has shown that he is a man of limited experience, questionable convictions, deeply troubling associations (Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, Tony Rezko) and an alarming lack of self-definition -- do you really know who he is and what he believes? Nonetheless, he's got both a first-class intellect and a first-class temperament. That will likely be enough to make him president.

Looks like even Krauthammer sees an Obama victory, and isn't too worried about it. That's probably the most interesting turn of events I've seen in, well, days....