Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Elitism

Doonesbury has been running some funny strips on Sarah Palin lately, and the strip's site has a related poll asking readers to say whether they think they're qualified to be President. The variation in response by age is interesting, though I don't know if it marks a shift in attitudes based on the era of one's birth or simply the gloomy realism that comes with getting older.

I may say more on this when I have time and brain to think more clearly about it, but for now, I just want to say that I'm depressed how childish the American electorate seems to be (to have become?). All of these people who dislike Barack Obama for being "elitist," all of these people who look at George Bush (grandson of a Senator, son of a President, graduate of Andover, Yale, and Harvard) and John "Many Houses" McCain.

Sure, some of this "elitist" talk is just code talk for "uppity Negro"--and that's depressing in its own way--but some of it is sincere. It seems to be based on the idea that Obama doesn't have Americans' interests at heart because (unlike Bush) he talks like he has the education that he has. And probably it goes beyond education--I think that people don't like that Obama talks like he's smarter than us, more thoughtful than us.

You know what? Odds are that he IS smarter and more thoughtful than us. And he flippin' should be. The Presidency requires somebody of extraordinary abilities. A President can have an ordinary background--that's better, probably--but he or she needs to outstrip the rest of us in some pretty substantial ways if the country's going to thrive. Or survive.

And I'm fine with that. Abraham Lincoln was nobody's elitist, but he was smarter and more thoughtful than almost all Americans alive at the time (and now). You know that story about his teaching himself to read on the back of a coal shovel? That shows not just that he came from humble origins but also that he was quicker to learn and more disciplined about learning than almost all of us. How many of your high school buddies would have worked that hard? How many of them did work that hard? Did you? (I didn't.) And can you imagine George Bush learning to read under similarly difficult conditions? He barely managed at some of the richest schools in America.

If Lincoln were alive today and from Compton, he would probably have taught himself Spanish and Chinese in elementary school and learned UNIX on the middle school computer. And, if he had a little luck, he would have gotten a scholarship to the same schools that George Bush went to as a C-student legacy case. And he might talk and act much like Obama does now.

Am I saying Obama is a Lincoln for our times? No. He hasn't been tested yet in a way that would let him prove or disprove that claim. I am saying that I'm afraid that a Lincoln in our times might be like a caveman Shakespeare: somebody whose gifts are unvalued or actively despised by the people whose lives they could improve.

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2 Comments:

At 9:14 AM , Anonymous ch3lk said...

fuckin-a. I, someone who abhores violence, literally want to punch people when they say they won't vote for So-And-So because they talk to smart. When did education become a *negative* thing for the highest office in the land? I don't know the name of Spain's Prime Minister but I expect, no, I DEMAND, that my president does.

 
At 9:16 AM , Anonymous ch3lk said...

case in point:

talk to smart = talk too smart

 

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