Monday, May 12, 2008


Stanley Crouch has always been one of the most eclectic voices in the American conversation; even when he goes astray, he is worth reading. Here he is on the “elitist” charge against Sen. Obama:

Columbia- and Harvard-educated, bad-bowling Obama is an elite, the conservatives - and the Clintons - claim. He is out of touch with the working class, they say.

It has become commonplace for the predictable millionaire puppets of Fox News and their conservative talk radio counterparts to present themselves as the voices of the working class in combat with an educated elite from places like Harvard.

But beneath those cliches fester ideas that are deeply anti-democratic.
They are anti-democratic because they scoff at this basic truth: Education is the key to social mobility in our country. The stereotyped working class has no innate limits. It has produced the majority of doctors, engineers, architects, educators and others who realized the dreams of their families by studying hard and moving into careers quite different from those of their parents and their neighbors.

Education has always been viewed as suspect by everyone from slave owners to totalitarians. Wherever in the world you find them, they share one hostility: They hate books.

The presidency is not an Academy Award for Best Performance as a bowler, a fast food gobbler, a whisky and beer guzzler, a hard-hat-wearer or a hunter. We ought to know how far leadership capabilities are from surfaces, slogans and costumes.

This is a little unfair. It is not education and achievement that Americans resent, but the belief of some of our most educated that America is broken, and it is their job to fix it. Mr. Crouch is correct that we do not necessarily want presidents who can bowl well or shoot straight, but neither do we want a president who sees himself as a divine Master Engineer, a trait found not in the upwardly mobile highly educated per se, but in a certain sort of highly educated person more generally. (If you have the time and the temper, see an example of snotty overeducated elites proposing to burn down all that they inherited in the 1962 Port Huron Statement, the founding document of the 1960s radical left.)

I am aware of no American who resents the child of the “working class” (a term that I don’t much care for) who from humble beginnings makes it big. Sen. Obama is as admired as any other American in this regard. What is resented is the equating of degrees with the right not just to govern, but to rule. It is the sense of entitlement that sometimes accompanies (excessive) education that rightly gives the average American pause. He knows that the marriage of ideas and power is often a dangerous one. This is why he resents, for example, Sen. Obama’s now-notorious armchair psychoanalysis of why white rural Pensnsylvanians “cling to” their guns and their God. It suggests that Sen. Obama is a doctor, there to cure them of some deep sickness that is all that stands in the way of Sen. Obama’s (or any progressive’s) master plan for remaking America in the face of centuries of tradition and its hidden wisdom. This has been the way of things in America for a long while; resentment of elitist overlords dates at least as far back as Andrew Jackson’s electoral campaigns.

Books are not the problem. People who think books tell them how to manage the lives of others are the problem.


Post a Comment

<< Home