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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Too Intellectual to be President?

So asks Meghan Daum of the L.A. Times...

After the Reverend Wright fiasco, I pointed out that one of Obama's biggest problems was his surrogates and their defense of him. The worst, in my opinion, was Mary Mitchell. She started out a column by proclaiming "Black People Get It White People Don't Now Let's Move On".

Well, Ms. Daum is doing her part to dig Barack Obama's hole a little deeper with respect to his latest gaffe about people being bitter. In the view of Daum, the problem was that the comment was too intellectual for most people and that is why we got offended...

The effect of that trap has been on a continuous loop in recent days, following Barack Obama's ill-chosen remarks about bitter rural Americans clinging to guns and religion. The takeaway, of course, is that this sentiment proves once and for all that Obama is an elitist fatally out of touch with the average American. But in deference to my onetime dinner companion, let me ask this: Is he vulnerable to the out-of-touch charge because he is an elitist, or because he is usually (even if not in this case) comfortable with and in command of nuanced ideas? Is he bashable because he's a snob or because he's an intellectual?

Given that "intellectual" is now far too open to interpretation to mean much (William F. Buckley was considered an intellectual, but these days so is anyone who wears those hipster-nerd glasses), I'm tempted to leave that question to the old master, Woody Allen (though, let's be honest, he traded intellectuals for boring rich people a while ago). But even if Obama is not an intellectual in the classic sense, there's no doubt that he's absorbed the trappings of erudite rhetoric. He offers up ideas that don't lend themselves to sound bites but require some sustained attention. And according to the media and the political spin machine, that's proof he's snobby and out of touch.

Get that. The reason we simpletons were offended is because we absorbed the comments and didn't think about them and let them sink in. It wasn't that the comments were offensive you see but that we allowed them to be offensive because of our own debased mentality. Obama may not be President but that's because his ideas require thoughts that most of the public is not capable. Simpletons like Ronald Reagan are much better fit to be President because they offer up easy ideas that most of the public can comprehend.

Not so with Obama, he is nuanced and sophisticated and that just isn't going to work on the electorate.

I have had my opportunity to meet many an elitist in my life. Two things I know about the average elitist. The first is that they usually have no idea that they are an elitist and the second is that they never fail to show their elitism. In one column, Ms. Daum shows both to be true.

Better even than Daum's blatant, if not self aware, elitism, is the elitism of this Kossack that wrote a piece commenting on Daum's piece.

Most of the vitriol being levied at Obama these days boils down to his shocking refusal to mouth the standard phrases all politicians are supposed to say, the ones that seem to make up 110% of John McCain's vocabulary. Listening to Obama requires that you engage more than political cruise control and actually think about what he's saying. Can we put up with that?


One of the things that strikes people who've spent any time in Europe is that Europeans tend to be almost universally bookish. By that I don't mean they travel around with a copy of Proust tucked under one arm, but if they've read past the cover page of Remembrance of Things Past they're not afraid to toss their own two euros into the discussion. That doesn't mean for a moment that Europeans are one neuron smarter than Americans, only that they don't seem convinced that knowledge is something you should feel bad about.

Yes, of course, Obama's ideas are too nuanced for the average dumb American to comprehend. We, simpletons, need those nifty thirty second sound bites and that isn't Obama. That's why the Europeans get him. That's because they are far more intellectual than we are.

It is quite interesting and ironic how people that think they are this smart don't seem to grasp concepts like patronizing, condescending, and elitist itself. I guess they are way too smart to understand those debased concepts. We simpletons will likely be offended anyway, but that's because our offense can be summed up by a thirty second sound bite.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We need to watch the political systems rooted in anti-intellectualism (nazism, stalinism, bushism, dictatorships) to understand the genuine connexions between intelectualism and democracy