Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Christine O'Donnell Matters

If Delaware voters have any sense, Christine O’Donnell will be soundly defeated by Chris Coons in their senatorial contest.  But there’s a disturbing trend in American politics that is epitomized by her third try for a Senate seat.

O’Donnell is touting her somewhat-below-average academic career as one reason to vote for her over her Amherst and Yale-educated opponent.  Her Palinesque argument is that she is “common folk”, closer to the average person than someone who attended prestige universities.  (OK, you don’t have to remind me that Dubya attended Harvard and Yale, but those family connections and drinking binges are the exception to the rule.) 

Realistically, once candidates are out of college for two decades, their track record in the “real world” is more important than where they matriculated.  But the fact that a candidate was successful in a top-notch school and had the drive and intellect to receive a post-graduate degree does say something positive about that person.  Would you go to a doctor who bragged about being educated at East Podunk Medical Correspondence School?

While it may have been a good thing in simpler colonial times, I don’t want a person with average intelligence representing me.  I’d much prefer someone smarter than me who can deal with complex economic and trade issues, up-to-date scientific concepts, and the nuances of foreign policy – all at the same time.  For too long, our nation has treated our educational system as a drain on our tax coffers rather than an investment in our future.  O’Donnell’s attitude only serves to perpetuate this harmful attitude.

1 comment:

  1. I can’t speak for Christine O’Donnell, but I think you somewhat mischaracterize this “disturbing trend”.

    First, I think that most Americans want their political leaders to be smart people. Obvious lack of basic intelligence has never been a political selling point, although to this point it has not slowed down the careers of Barbara Boxer or Patty Murray.

    There are however, two related issues that do disturb a large number of Americans.

    One is the concern that someone, raised in affluence, attending only the best schools, and surrounded only with people of similar circumstance, can grow up having no clue whatsoever how the large majority of Americans actually live their lives. This is a concern that can cross both parties (e.g., two Bushes and countless Kennedys) but is especially acute today given that we have a president who never wastes an opportunity to let us know he is smarter than us, and doesn’t care what we think because he knows what is good for us.

    The other is the sense that “smart” seems no longer to be measured by such concepts as innate intelligence, common sense or IQ. Instead we are increasingly told that having the right political views is evidence of intelligence, no matter how stupid you are, and having the wrong political views is evidence of stupidity, no matter how smart you are.

    That Americans are expressing the idea that they want leaders who actually understand their lives, and are getting tired of being called scared and stupid by a president and his party, is not in my eyes a disturbing trend.