Thomas Jefferson must be rolling in his grave. Ever since Sarah Palin was chosen as McCains VP choice nearly a month ago, commentators have been tossing around the name of our most egalitarian Founding Father as justification for the inclusion of this self-described hockey mom on a national ticket (ignoring, I assume, the fact that Jefferson was a lusty old slaveowner). The argument seems to run that if America is a true democracy, as Jefferson envisioned, then someone like Palin should be qualified to lead it.
Theres one problem, though: Our Founding Fathers werent morons.
As John A. Farrell astutely pointed out in a U.S. News & World Report blog post last week, Jeffersons enthusiasm for equal opportunity, though radical for its time, did not extend to the obviously unqualified. Any citizen might, in theory, end up in the White House but just because you could doesnt mean you should. By widening the applicant pool, Jefferson and his chums were seeking to increase the talent of Americas leadership, not dilute it. Always the pragmatists, they would never have advocated the ridiculous notion that anybody is fit to lead a nation. And yet here we are today.
I guess its understandable that people are all in a tizzy about equality. The Internet is flattening the information playing field, and increased access to education is making it easier for regular folks to dream of climbing the ranks. And the slow decline in prejudice has made it possible for people of different races, religions and sexual preferences to jump in the mix. Just think come January, there will be either an African-American or a woman in the White House for the first time in history.
But our passion for playing nice has gotten a bit out of control. Elementary schools have stopped using red ink. Infomercials proclaim that anyone can become a millionaire with no work. Our president brags about the Cs he earned in college.
Dont we want leaders who are intelligent and hard-working? I, for one, dont care if my presidents and senators make me feel inferior (they should). It doesnt matter if they drink the same beer as I do or if their spouse likes snowmobiles. Im looking for someone I could never be and who can do things I cant. Leading the United States of America should be the hardest job in the world, and it should demand the services of only the best.
Weve seen how well the alternative works. George W. Bush is a man who revels in his normalcy, and, although his silly Texan accent and pretensions at down-homeness are just a charade hes the son a president and a graduate of Yale and Harvard his mediocrity of mind is genuine. This is a guy who often speaks as if hes just learned the English language and who thinks clearing brush on TV makes him look cool. Hes been arrested for cocaine possession and drunk driving and once took a swing at his pops. As he told Bob Costas at the Olympics, I dont see America having problems.
Two wars, a feeble economy, a man-made disaster in New Orleans and a few waterboardings later, we can see where this experiment has left us.
We should be worried, Cornellians. Sure, our president did it, but its going to be hard for the rest of us Ivy Leaguers to pretend were an everyman. In a society in which mediocrity is celebrated and excellence mocked as elitism, were Public Enemy No. 1.
So should we revert to autocracy? Do we need to call the king back across the sea?
Theres a scene in Lucans "Pharsalia" in which Caesar chastises his men for threatening a mutiny during their war against Pompey. Your life and death mean nothing, he tells them: Such trifles bob in the wake of a few great men /men to whom mortals owe their existence.
Im not advocatig anything quite so extreme (though I can see Obama using that line at his inauguration). No the best and the brightest can come from any corner of society, and the idea of an elite class of rulers is antithetical to our basic principles of governance.
But lets not make any more mistakes like we did with Bush. Inexperience and willful ignorance, even when accompanied by a big smile, can only lead to disaster. And if Sarah Palin ends up in the White House, Jefferson just might rise up from the dead and smite us all.