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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Elitism and Personality Politics

First, click on the title of this message for some entertainment not directly related to this post (well okay, sort of....)

One of the really alarming themes that have played repeatedly this week on the public iPod re: Governor Sarah Palin is something like 'She's just like us - isn't that great?'

This topic has come up before, and it is not the exclusive territory of Republicans or Democrats. But it has really gnawed at me the past few days.

I guess I'm an elitist - when I consider candidates for really important leadership roles, I'm not looking for myself in those candidates. I would hope I can find people who have a better education, a bigger range of life experiences, a more notable resume, and a longer list of exceptional accomplishments than you'd find from me.

There's nothing wrong with my life or my resume - I'm happy with it. I have a Bachelor's Degree from a state university, and it has served me well in the life I have led. I've worked hard, had some success and a few misses, and am able to enjoy what I consider to be a comfortable middle-class life. It allows for a certain amount of personal entertainment, some generosity to others, and hopefully some security for the future.

But crimony, I'm nobody special. If I listen to a political candidate talk about themselves and their qualifications for elected office, and all I hear is a playback of my own experience, I'm nervous. See, I don't think the life I've led would be quite enough to merit elected office.

And yet, time and time again, we see a dumbing down of the standard. Now, a Congress and White House full of lawyers with Ivy League educations and well-worn passports is not a guarantee of good decision making. Far from it. But can't we start with a higher bar?

Governor Palin is lauded for her 'common sense'. Here's my experience with that term... I hear it a lot from my own family. It always sounds good on TV or in print, and it's a re-assuring endorsement. But that term also gets thrown about if somebody offers an argument or line of thinking others have not previously heard or understood. It can be used as a way to dismiss what might be a useful conversation, but if it's unfamiliar, it doesn't meet the criteria of 'common sense'. The conversation stops, and we click back to 'Dancing with the Stars'.

We are unapologetic elitists when it comes to sports and entertainment. Even 'Dancing with the Stars' sorts out the wheat from the chaff.

Why do we watch the Olympics? Because the athletes are doing things that the vast majority of us will never do.

Why do people pay a lot of money to hear Renee' Fleming sing at the Met? It's not because she sings like you or I, but because she's on the very tiny list of people who have a particular gift and the requisite training.

And to show that I'm not a total snob, I also like Reba. And Elton John.

Why do the plays of Shakespeare, Moliere, and Shaw continue to be read and performed? It's because they're exceptional. They are in an elite class of writing talents. That mastery of language and storytelling is not comparable to our everyday conversations with people we know.

And yet, when we step to the ballot box, more and more we're being persuaded to aim lower, to vote for ourselves.

I'm not in favor of that trend. Let's demand more, and reach higher.


lloydletta said...

Excellent and thoughtful post, Mark. I totally concur.