I hope we elect a president who is smarter than I am. I guess that makes me an elitist.
Elitism has become a major theme of this presidential election, practically the only theme during the recent Pennsylvania primary. The discussion sometimes centers on the specific, such as whether a candidate can bowl or down a shot of Crown Royal with the proper attitude. But the broader theme encompasses the candidate's ability to relate to the "average" voter, project a sense of understanding the hopes, dreams and frustrations of the American heartland, and the aptitude to seem smart but not too smart for your own britches.
The discussion also obliquely examines the issue of manhood -- whether the candidate happens to be a man or not. In many cases, the manhood issue has little to do with a candidate's real manly credentials. That is why John Kerry, a genuine war hero, could be depicted as an effete Frenchman while George Bush, a genuine war avoider, was viewed as a pickup-ridin', brush-clearin', big-belt-buckle-wearin' macho man.
Bush's father, another genuine war hero, had to develop a taste for pork rinds to avoid being labeled a WASPy, white wine sipper. Ronald Reagan, who never put on a uniform if he wasn't in front of a camera, somehow was synthesized into an aggregate of the tough guys he played on the screen.
Largely, however, the manhood/elitist problem has been a Democratic problem -- or at least it has been skillfully portrayed as such by the Republican spinmeisters. To hear them tell it, a genetic wimp thread runs from Adlai Stevenson through Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Mike Dukakis, Al Gore all the way to John Kerry. And now the sly speculation is on whether Barack Obama has the wimp gene, too.
In this case, however, the speculation has been stoked largely by Obama's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, Ms. Testicular Fortitude herself. This, of course, is not the Illinois-raised, Wellesley/Yale educated, lawyerly Hillary. This is the shot-and-beer-swilling, rifle-toting, granddaughter-of-a-factory-worker, NASCAR-loving Hillary.
Poor Obama can't bowl a lick and eats egg-white omelets. And, of course, he didn't help himself much with the "bitter" remarks -- at a fund-raiser in SAN FRANCISCO!
Nonetheless, it appears Hillary's charade did not succeed. Obama is close to clinching the Democratic nomination, and so far he has avoided being permanently tagged as a pointy-headed, patronizing, intellectual dandy. Maybe it helped that he actually was raised by a single mom who had to go on food stamps, and that he attended Occidental College, Columbia University and Harvard Law School on scholarships.
But what irks me is that we seem to put more emphasis on his bona fides as a common man as opposed to what makes him the uncommon man -- the intellect, the vocabulary, the bearing, the oratory skill, the unflappable demeanor, the wit. I don't care if he went to college on scholarship as much as I care that he went to Columbia and Harvard Law.
As noted, I must be an elitist. I drive a Japanese car. I like arugula, quiche and wine. I pay no attention to NASCAR. I haven't been bowling in about 30 years. I don't fish. I listen to NPR and watch foreign movies.
But, then again, I like pork rinds, not to mention just about anything fried. I own a shotgun. I like football. I have owned several pickups and worn a cowboy hat and boots. I don't hold my pinky out when I drink whiskey. I like John Wayne. And I have a chain saw (although it's a little, green electric one).
I suspect that many of the voters who will be choosing the next president have similarly diverse tastes and pastimes. The idea that there is some monolithic, unvarying, blue-collar culture out there is insulting, condescending and, uh, elitist on many levels.
In short, let's quit worrying whether the next president is someone we'd like to sit next to on a plane. Let's elect a guy who can fly the plane.