In Defense of Elitism

The McCain-Palin campaign, and Republicans in general, keep attacking “elites.” What’s so terrible about being elite? When the US military has a difficult assignment, who does it send? Its elite commando teams, the SEALs and the Green Berets. If you want to win a gold medal, who do you send? An elite athlete like Michael Phelps. If you have a heart problem, what doctor do you want? An elite cardiologist.

For doing difficult things, we generally want the best prepared person we can get. After all, you wouldn’t get on an airplane piloted by someone who had barely gotten through flight school. But when it comes to the presidential election, the contest for possibly the hardest job in the world, suddenly the approach gets reversed. Advanced training and cerebral approaches are eschewed in favor of plain speakin’ and gut instinct.

I’m not saying you have to go to fancy schools in order to be a good president. George W. Bush went to two of the fanciest, and he’s pretty well cheesed things up. But neither should prestigious degrees or eloquent speech preclude one from being elected. There is nothing inherently bad about being elite, nor inherently good about being average. That being said, I don’t want Joe the Plumber running this country, although I want my president to remember who Joe the Plumber is. Or as Jon Meacham put it, “Do we want leaders who are everyday folks, or do we want leaders who understand everyday folks?”

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