America is facing into a difficult time. They are mired down in two intractable wars in the Middle East, face the complete collapse of their banking system, and haven’t even begun yet to address global warming, the food crisis, peak oil, or adjust to the rise of China and India. But something lies at the heart of this mess. It is one word: stupidity.
A long-term culture of anti-intellectualism has pervaded American politics since at least 1980 and the rise of that gun-toting, straight-talking actor. It is as if intelligence and aloofness and being elite were necessarily bad qualities in a leader. Most other countries actively want and vote for intelligent, elite, educated leaders, who look like they know more than the average Joe. These qualities are seen as an essential characteristic of being a leader. And religion has laid its deathly, dumb, unreasoning hand across public debate too, reaching its nadir with the appointment of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate, to “energise the base”. Anyone who can embrace a politician tasked with solving America’s problems based on the fact that she is a “hockey mom” or believes in Adam and Eve, deserves to have their vote stripped from them.
There is the constant assumption, among popular America thinking, that the American electoral system is almost flawless, and is indeed the epitome of perfection. The assumption is that the original drafters of the American constitution were historically prescient to a degree that no other legislators in history, in any other comparable country, could hope to achieve. And that not only did they draft far-sighted rules and regulations that worked well in 1779, but that they continue to work well in 2008.
But the system is flawed. That a Presidential candidate can nominate a total unknown who then might slot into the second-highest position in the land is frightening enough. But that they stand one heart-beat from the Presidency is even more scary. All we can be sure of is that she won’t blink.
Democracy itself is not perfect. Churchill famously said of it, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” It is chastening to reflect that public reaction, most of it ill-informed, can decide whether a complex piece of financial rescue legislation can be defeated in the House or not.
When it comes to the Presidential election, how does the vote of some illiterate from a rural town in middle America with no exposure to economics or foreign policy equate to the vote of an educated, elite politically-savvy person from New York, say? It doesn’t. But the democratic principle says it is. And, yes, I accept that I’d rather live with democracy’s imperfections than a perfect totalitarianism. I am with Churchill on that point. But it still doesn’t make democracy right or not in need of remedial attention.
No doubt my notions will be considered elitist: it is because they are elitist. But maybe it is time for America to breathe in deeply, adopt some humility, and elect some elite, smart guy to run their country for a few years. Well, America?