Certain jobs require certain skills. Whether you want to be a construction worker, a lawyer or a professional football player, there are certain skills you need to learn to be effective at those jobs. Logically, the same should apply to those who want to become leaders of a country. Not everyone has the chops to lead a country. A person needs great knowledge, both factual and philosophical, to be the leader of a nation. In order to gain that knowledge it takes time and effort that most people do not have.
But apparently many in the Republican Party think being smarter than most people makes for a bad leader. First it was Rick Santorum who said President Barack Obama was a “snob” for wanting all Americans to go to college and criticizing the elite in society who, in his words, “think that they can manage your life better than you can.”
More recently Mitt Romney said Obama has spent too much time at Harvard. Perhaps Romney forgot that he also went to Harvard.
These statements are pure campaign statements designed to gain approval from the masses. Otherwise they do not make much sense. Because if Santorum were elected president — thankfully not a possibility anymore — he would be in the position of managing the lives of others, making him one of those elites he criticizes.
The U.S. is definitely a democracy, but it is not a pure one. It is a restricted democracy. This is a good thing. In a purely democratic system, the people would directly vote on all issues. That system would not work because not everyone would have enough knowledge to vote on the many complex issues that arise in a nation. Because of that we elect certain people to become knowledgeable about those complex issues and make decisions for us.
This anti-elitist culture that the Republicans are playing into goes against our system of government. The U.S. Constitution is a document that fully supports smarter people being chosen as leaders of the masses. But that is not to say that the elite are always right and that we should always elect candidates who went to Ivy League schools.
In order to figure out when criticizing and attacking the elite is justified, it is important to point out that there are different types of elite in our current society. There are “intellectual elites” who are the academics, scholars, policy analysts, etc. Then there are the “prestige elites” who are the white-collar executives, career politicians and others who are known as elites more for their social and financial standing than their knowledge.
Potential leaders who are a part of the prestige elite culture, like Romney, can be justifiably criticized because they do not necessarily have the skills and knowledge to effectively govern. Intellectual elites, the ones who have spent their lives studying politics, economics and other fields, are the elites who I believe should more often get elected to positions of power. If you would like some historical perspective, only one president in U.S. history has ever been a political scientist and someone I would consider an intellectual elite, and that was Woodrow Wilson.
As you can see there is not much historical precedent.
There are many reasons I could list that may explain why we do not see many academics enter politics, but one simple factor is that they do not always win. In my idealistic mind the intellectual elites should always have the advantage over the prestige elites, but obviously this has not been the case.
Answering why this is goes back to the question of why it benefits Republican candidates to rant against the elite. Much of this might be explained by the relatively recent hipster phenomenon. By this I am referring to those people who are recognized as hipsters because they knew about something, such as a band or a political movement, before it was popular and then brag about it. The word “hipster” has taken a negative connotation because bragging that one has knowledge that others do not have is a symbol of arrogance, self-importance and a giant ego.
This is why there are so many average Americans who dislike those intellectual elites, because those elites can sometimes display an arrogance that make the rest of America feel small. No one will vote for someone who makes him or her feel like an idiot. If Obama were to come out and say that he knows better than the public because he went to Harvard Law School, he would have a difficult time getting people to vote for him.
The problem of anti-elitism in American can be solved, but only if both the elites and the masses change their attitudes toward each other. The elites must be more humble and modest toward the masses, because no one likes being treated like a kid — especially kids. On the other hand, the masses must realize that there are people out there who know much more about the effects and consequences of political issues than they do, and sometimes one has to defer questions to the smartest person in the room.
No one wants an inadequate president, and no one wants a hipster president. It is crucial America finds that middle ground.