by Robert Schlesinger
Give me informed elites --Marco Rubio even -- over the smug know-nothingism of Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell
There is an old, possibly apocryphal, campaign story involving Adlai Stevenson. During one of his presidential bids in the 1950s, a female supporter gushed that he had the support of "every thinking American." Stevenson's deadpan reply: "Thank you, ma'am, but I need a majority."
Stevenson, a professorial Illinois liberal who too often seemed detached from the hurly-burly of politics, knew a bit about Americans and their views on thinking. He was damned on the right as an "egghead," too smart for his own political good. (He was also a friend of my father, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who worked for him.)
Fast forward half a century. Another professorial Illinois liberal occupies the
You could see it two weeks ago when House Republicans unveiled their campaign platform, which thundered against "an arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites." So as to drive the point home, the assembled officeholders adopted the forced faux-populism of crisply starched dress shirts with collars open -- jackets and ties apparently being signs of arrogant elitism. Sure, politicians frequently make campaign appearances in shirt sleeves, hoping the contrived casual look gives them the common touch. But this was the
And note the phrase "self-appointed elites," as if the Democrats had seized power in some sort of midnight coup. In fact they were hired by the voters to do the job of governing the country. We appointed them, and we may well fire them in a month. The Republicans are now applying for that job, but in their big presentation they dressed casually. A critical part of their pitch is that they're not especially qualified. For what is more elitist than to claim that you more than your peers are qualified to govern?
Some cannot even be bothered to claim that. Take Kelly Ayotte, the
I do not know better than you? Then why are you running for office? That's a reason not to vote for a candidate in and of itself. My congressional representatives had better know better than I do. That's their job -- they pay attention to the day-by-day multitudinous matters of state so we don't have to, and that requires expertise and intelligence. Being a legislator requires an ability to carefully consider weighty issues like the New START treaty as well as more esoteric ones like the migrant farmworker policy. That was the lesson of Stephen Colbert's in-character testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee. It was just one aspect of the Congressional workload that most people have little interest of and a sub-Colbert level of knowledge in. And that's to say nothing of the intricacies of the tax code, environmental policies, or foreign affairs. "I've never been abroad, but I did stay at a
So is a Ph.D. in foreign relations a prerequisite to elective office? No. But smarts and an inquisitive intellect should be -- not the self-satisfied, know-nothingness exemplified by Sarah Palin and her Delaware mini-me, Christine O'Donnell.
Florida GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio, a
Let's count the ways that's wrong, starting with the idea that the Founding Fathers, most of whom would serve in the government, were "everyday people." The 55 men at the
And if they envisioned "everyday people" in government, their notion of "everyday" was narrow: only white Protestant landowners could vote. It was, in other words, a narrowly drawn elite and not one that would have included a Roman Catholic son of Cuban immigrants, like Rubio.
Which is too bad because Rubio is smart, by all accounts, and obviously ambitious. He graduated law school cum laude and was elected to the Florida House before he was 30. He held three different leadership positions during his eight years in office. He's certainly not my cup of tea, as it were, but he's qualified.
He may not be a liberal egghead, but as an erudite lawyer and budding career politician, he is -- like many of today's conservative populists -- not so much an Everyman as a political elite. Just don't tell the voters.
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