In his column published in The Sun July 26, Richard Cohen bemoans the fact that politicians have to dumb down their message and credentials in order to get elected. He claimed they have to hide their academic degrees from prestigious universities and avoid their erudite vocabularies and play down their intellectual abilities. He seems puzzled as to why we commoners don’t appreciate these elitists.
For the most part, I have avoided politics in this column, but I can’t resist taking this opportunity to enlighten Mr. Cohen. To begin with, his column reflected the condescending attitude of so many elitists. We commoners may not be the smartest people on the planet, but there are some things that insult our common sense. Intuitively, we know it does not take a 2,000 page bill, unread by those who voted on it, to reform health care or our financial institutions. In both instances, we were told it must be passed so we can know what is in it. Such actions tell us it is not intellectual aplomb that rules in our capital but rather political savvy and gamesmanship.
Secondly, those who are elite, erudite, and graduates of prestigious universities often promote an ideology unacceptable to us common folk. They eschew the label liberal and prefer to call themselves progressives. Either way, the ideology goes way back.
The late Malcolm Muggeridge, tells about his experience with progressives back in the 1920’s. He had grown up with a socialist father, and Beatrice Webb, the famous British socialists, was his aunt, fore runners of modern progressives.
As a young reporter, he moved his family to Moscow, Russia, where he intended to live out the rest of his life and contribute to the development of the great, people’s utopian experiment known as Soviet communism. He was quickly disillusioned with this progressive ideology. Even as the failures of the experiment became obvious, there continued to be regular visits by American elitists, mostly college professors and government bureaucrats, to Russia to get a glimpse of this wonderful experiment.
Muggeridge reports in his autobiography that these elitist so badly wanted this experiment to be a success that they would believe just about anything they were told, and so, he would try and see how far he could stretch their credulity. It was common for the visitors to ask why there were so many lines of poor peasants at stores and government offices. Muggeridge would explain that these people were so committed to the grand experiment that they would work themselves from morning to night to make it happen. The only way the government could insure that the people would get some rest was to engineer these long waits. Yes, many of the elitists bought it, according to Muggeridge.
As an ideology, progressivism has been around long enough that it has developed its own fundamentalists. The latest iteration of this ideology is being expressed by politicians like Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi. It makes no difference that their progressivism has been tried and found wanting around the world in a number of venues, these current progressive fundamentalists are going to try it anyway. In many ways, they are like the religious fundamentalist who says, “Don’t bother me now; I’m looking for a scripture to back up my preconceived idea.”
Those of us who live in what the elites dub fly over country, who graduated from common state universities, or didn’t even get that far, see political games being played with our borders, our taxes, our health care, our investments, our jobs and our energy. We look at the messes in our country and around the world, and we realize that these things are the results of policies of the erudite, elitists who graduated from prestigious universities, and we become suspicious of those who govern. We just want straight talk and solutions.
Mr. Cohen might ask himself why an intellectual heavy weight like Bill Buckley would rather, “entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” Why didn’t Buckley, an erudite, intellectual elite, graduate of Yale University, trust people with his qualifications to run the government? What did he know that we don’t?
One of my college professors and a lifelong friend and novelist, the late Robert O. Bowen, once explained to me that a true intellectual is a person who observes life going on around him, thinks carefully about what he observes, and learns from it – nothing said about books.
So, Mr. Cohen, those of us who are suspicious of the elite, the erudite, and those with credentials from prestigious universities, are people who can learn from the past, something the progressives you want us to embrace don’t seem to do.