I am a political junkie. But beyond my personal preferences (should I say obsessions) right now, I think that the current presidential race is a great topic for a blog called "Mixed Race America." And I don't just say that because we have our first openly mixed-race Presidential candidate (and first African American candidate of a major party) but because race and politics have gone hand in hand from the time this country was first established. So OF COURSE I should be talking about politics.
[Of course, perhaps I could be drawing out the racial implications more concretely...I think I've tried to do that, but I will ponder this more for future political posts.]
But what I really want to talk about relates to the title of this post: in defense of elitism.
Let me begin with the disclaimer that I am being deliberately provocative. Because there really isn't anything about elitism that I think needs defending. But the charge of elitism that comes up time and again against Democrats, specifically certain Democrats like John Kerry and now Barack Obama, this is what I want to tackle.
Because it's not elitism in the sense of power or money (although it might be couched in those terms). The elitism that is being leveled at Obama is one that has definite racial connotation but it has larger educational overtones. In other words, he's elite because he's smart.
So really, this post is in defense of being the smartest kid in the room (or thinking you are the smartest kid in the room).
THIS, I have some experience with.
I have often been or thought I was the smartest kid in the room. I have often aspired to be the smartest kid in the room. I am told that I am a smart person. And I do believe that I am smart.
Do I seem conceited? Elitist perhaps?
That last sentence--I believe I am smart. That was a hard sentence to write. Because there are so many messages that I get that tells me that even if I believe this, I should never say this out loud. That to do so is to brag or to demean others or to overstate the case.
Why? I am a college professor. I am SUPPOSED to be an expert in my field, even if I know that "expert" is relative to my students (truthfully, I doubt that as an assistant professor I can claim expertise compared with my colleagues who have been doing this for over twenty years). But if you have a kid in college, you want and expect that his/her professor is going to be smart, right? And we expect our doctors and dentists to be smart--to have expert knowledge in his/her field. And the same is true for our auto mechanics and plumbers and electricians--fields not typically associated with formal education but which none-the-less have intelligence and expertise embedded in their specializations.
So why don't we want the president of the United States to be smart? And not only to be smart, but to say I AM SMART. To declare, forcefully,
"Hey, you know why you should elect me to be President? Because I'm a very intelligent guy. I went to some of the best schools in this nation, and our colleges and universities are among the best in the world, and I didn't just stop at getting a BA, I was so smart that I got into law school, and not any law school HARVARD, that's right--the best university in the world (according to some, especially those of us who went to school "in Boston"), and I was so smart that I got to teach law -- that's right, I was so smart that I became a professor. And I DO have an elite education and I AM often the smartest person in the room, and damn it you WANT the smartest person in the room to be the President of the United States because we have complex and difficult issues facing us. The current financial crisis? It's complicated--it's not as simple as saying we don't want to give free hand-outs to the Wall Street folks. Because Wall Street and Main Street are intimately connected and although I use this simple rhetoric, the truth is, what happens in our nation's economy has transnational ramifications--banks are now closing in Europe and Asia's market looks like it will also take a tumble. And we haven't even started talking about foreign policy. Or the environmental and energy crises. Or education. We NEED smart people and we should DEMAND that our leaders also be smart people and that the head of state, the President of the United States of America should be 10X SMARTER THAN YOU AND SMARTER THAN ANYONE YOU KNOW and NOT the person you want to drink a beer with. Because that's not going to solve the complicated and hard problems that face us."
I'm also not saying that a single type of intelligence is going to get us out of this mess. But I know this: complex times and complicated issues call for complex and complicated cognition. Who do you think is more capable of nuance and complexity? John McCain or Barack Obama? My vote goes to the liberal elitist.