American Idol is a great show. I love it. But I'm afraid it's affected the way some of us think of voting.
Fareed Zakaria has come to be known as one of our most insightful analysts on national and international issues. In this recent CNN post, he discusses Sarah Palin's shocking lack of qualifications to lead the nation, as well as the actuarial probabilities that she would be called upon to do so.
The famous twentieth century British philosopher Bertrand Russell once said that one of the chief virtues of a democracy is that its leaders can't possibly be stupider than its people, because, the stupider the leaders are, the stupider yet the people were to elect them. This is both funny and disturbingly true.
In 1963, Columbia University historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Hofstadter published a book that changed my understanding of our nation's troubles. It was entitled, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life." When I read it as a graduate student, having found it in a used bookstore, I came away grateful that there is any such thing in America as higher education any more. There are so many different currents of anti-intellectualist sentiment running through our history, that it's no wonder this election cycle features dismissive references to any thoughtful and educated person as "one of the elite" - and that the word 'elite' itself has become a term of abuse. If the events of this week show anything, it will be that a complex country can't have leaders who vote and act on simplistic slogans without disaster as a consequence.
I wish I could sit down personally and review the tape of the first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama with all my Christian friends who believe that a vote for the Republican candidate is demanded by their faith. Their reasoning, typically, is that the Republicans are the party of traditional values, representing the moral high ground in this and previous elections.
I've suggested before that this portrayal of the party is far out of step with the personal history and concerns of their candidate in this presidential election, that it stands in complete contradiction with the now established Republican practice of using blatant falsehoods and deceptive near-truths to manipulate the voting public, and that it's a total disconnect with the party's modern captivity to wealth and power, in blatant neglect of fundamental moral issues of justice, mercy, and personal responsibility.
But in the first debate, I saw something additionally revelatory, something that had never really occurred to me before.
On a walk today, my wife was wondering aloud why Sarah Palin was chosen as John McCain's running mate, at a time when there were dozens of other prominent women in politics better qualified for the job - assuming that, for whatever reason, he thought the gender issue an important one for balancing the ticket.
I offered my view that because of her newbie status in politics, she had the most to gain from such a magnanimous gesture, and would likely be most amenable to become and say whatever the McCain campaign needed her to be and say. She was also more of a blank slate than any other woman he could have chosen with any remote chance of arguing her appropriateness for the role. She has little track record of any kind, and had been sufficiently secretive while in state office that a myth could easily be built around her that would be fairly challenging to disprove. The myth weaving that has happened so quickly is one more illustration of a longstanding Republican approach to language and its use. The Republican Party has been as masterful at creating alternate realities with language as it has been poor at the actual job of governance.
I want to take a look at the alternate reality business that has boomed with Republican campaigns.
Who has the experience necessary to be president? Republicans tried to make a big deal over the experience issue until Sarah Palin was picked as John McCain's vice presidential running mate. Then Campaign Central got quickly silent about the matter of experience, except outside the inner circle, where helpful supporters started trying to argue that in virtue of having been the mayor of a very small town, and having held office for less than two years as governor of one of our least populous states, Sarah Palin has vastly more relevant "executive experience" than Barack Obama.
And today, on "The View," the guest, Bill Clinton, was challenged by one of the ladies to say what he thinks of Sarah Palin. She pointed out that Clinton had been a governor, and that Palin has had that same qualifying experience for high office.
Bill's answer was diplomatic, and to the point. He said, "When I ran for president, I was the longest serving governor in the nation. George H. W. Bush said I was unqualified for the presidency. At the time, he knew a lot more than I did about foreign policy. But I had served long enough that I understood a lot better our economic issues as a nation."
I haven't heard a fellow Christian give a single reason for not supporting Obama that strikes me as a good one. In this post, I'll mention some of what I've heard, and some of what people need to know.
Like many people my age and younger, I got to know John McCain years ago first through his appearances on The Daily Show and other talk shows on TV. He seemed fun, funny, energetic, and independent in his thinking. He could take a joke and make one as well. He certainly seemed like one of the rare politicians you might have fun going out with to dinner and talking for hours. His "Straight Talk Express" seemed to be aptly labelled, and appeared to capture what was at the essence of his political persona, an unusual one to be sure. He had a dramatic back-story that seemed perfect for cinematic treatment - fighter pilot, prisoner, survivor, public servant - and he was married to a very attractive and apparently intelligent woman. He had a special glow, and a twinkle in his eye. Surely, one day this would all add up to be presidential material.
And then it all changed. Or at least, it all was at last fully revealed.
I'm a Christian philosopher. Many of my best friends are wonderful, kind, morally exemplary people who seem to have completely bought into the McCain campaign's message that there is no alternative for believing Christians and moral people than to vote Republican in this presidential election, or in any election, for that matter. On this blog, I'll give some of my thoughts about how wrong this is.