iOS app Android app More

Dumbing-Down the Candidates


Are you as fed up as I am with the campaign mud-slinging? The odd thing is, it isn't mud -- it's the squeaky-clean epithet "elite."

Suddenly, being articulate, polite, and well-educated is snobbery. Prefering a glass of orange juice to coffee and doughnuts is effete. Dressing formally in a tie and jacket (rather than a tee shirt and sweats) is pretentious.

Good grief! -- what are we looking for? A world leader or a bowling buddy?

It has been a very long time since America had a world-class president: Wilson the academic from Princeton, Roosevelt the patrician from the Hudson Valley, Kennedy the sophisticate from New England, and Eisenhower the beloved World War II hero. Other than that, we've had a haberdasher, an actor, a peanut farmer, a few lawyers, and a failed businessman and military drop-out. None of them brought any great degree of intelligence or imagination to the highest office in the land.

And still today, we're just looking for a hand-shaker: someone who we think can chummy up to coal miners, factory workers, farmers, inner-city minorities, pregnant teens, and high school drop-outs. Who can kiss babies, chug-a-lug beer and shoot pool; can eat whatever the locals are dishing out and use two-syllable words that are easily understood. A candidate today has to be as common as the common man (or woman). Well then, let's elect our next-door neighbor.

This is the dumbing-down of America and the dumbing-down of our candidates. It is what Jacques Barzun, one-time dean of Columbia University, alluded to nearly 50 years ago in "The House of Intellect": many Americans, clinging to an exaggerated sense of 'democracy', actually fear or envy or are suspicious of excellence. It's about time we had an excellent president in office. Not a political hack, not a self-indulgent clown, not a smooth-talking hypocrite, not an empty-headed puppet, not a pompous super-patriot, and certainly not a fuzzy-brained war monger.

Americans living and working and studying overseas somehow have a clearer perspective on American politics -- they are not inundated by the Washington-controlled media -- and they see first-hand what is happening around the world. In the overseas Democratic primaries held in February, Barack Obama got 65% of the vote. The overseas delegates to the Democratic National Convention will faithfully represent this majority. Will they be branded "elitists"?

Barack Obama is a gentleman and a scholar, and if America isn't prepared to elect this kind of person, then America deserves to get another Bush or another Carter or another Nixon, or worse.

2008-04-28-cmp.ob01.jpg
A View from the Bridge - April in Paris (John van Hasselt)