Here’s from his latest:
There is no way she [Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell] could ever be confused with a member of the elites; there is no way she could be confused with an above average high school student. Her ignorance, therefore, makes her authentic–the holy grail of latter-day American politics: she’s a real person, not like those phony politicians. In that sense, she—and the lifeboat filled with other Tea Party know-nothings—follow in the wake of our leading exemplar of ignorant authenticity, Sarah Palin (who seems every bit as unaware of public policy—she certainly never talks about it—as she was when a desperate and petulant John McCain chose her to be his running mate). There is something profoundly diseased about a society that idolizes its ignoramuses and disdains its experts.
Now, completely leaving aside the political issues…
Expertise Is Overrated
In the American political system, everyone is permitted a voice. It may not be a loud voice, but it is a voice.
It also is not without limits; states are permitted to prevent convicted felons, particularly convicts still serving sentences in prison, from voting. They often do. Notwithstanding this, amateurs are not barred from the system.
In many countries, the proportional representation system allows party organs to have dictatorial control over who is given a reasonable chance at serving in office under that party’s banner. The United States’ much maligned first-past-the-post system (similar to the United Kingdom’s) allows complete amateurs to compete for political office. Sometimes, particularly when the electorate is highly annoyed, one wins a primary to serve under a major party’s banner. Sometimes one even wins a general election. This is, as it perhaps should be, rare.
Notwithstanding this, the problem with this elitist attitude is very simple: the bar for expertise has been raised to ridiculousness.
Take Sharon Angle, candidate for Senate. Her opponent is Nevada Senator Harry Reid, also the sitting Senate Majority Leader, and amazingly, in danger of defeat in two short weeks. Angle is a grandmother, and raises the mantle of an ordinary woman, but served as a state senator prior to her run for Senate. In other words, she isn’t a political amateur; but the mere fact she has not served in Washington D.C. makes her an amateur in the eyes of the media. In other words, if you haven’t become an established figure in the capitol, you’re nobody to Time Magazine, and you should expect to be treated as such.
Totally aside the other issues with this candidate – she can be legitimately called someone who is not slick and refined in campaigning, something she wears as a badge of honor – the issue is this: Experts in one field protect experts of other fields. This includes the media scratching the backs of politicians who they consider to be expert political sages.
A Concept Left Buried
People apply this notion to other things, too. If you’re not a certified guru of some sort, or representing someone who is, you’re treated as if your ideas are garbage. Expectations are that the content of what you have to say matters less than the thickness of your credentials.
Authenticity comes from starting with what you know for a fact. Many philosophies start with what we have no possibility of knowing with certainty, and then working our way to certainty; however, this is not the only route to take. Yet alternate methods are condemned as dirt.
Put another way, this is the celebration of knowledge of the pleasant and complicated lies we tell each other in public life, condemning ignorance of these lies and the agendas they promote as knowing nothing.
This is simply incorrect.
There is no shame in beginning with the truth. None. Zero.
First, Know What Is Important And What Is Not
Or put better, even an idiot can know more than an expert. The idiot need merely know that one thing is more important than another, something most experts are truly horrible at determining. The clutter in their heads blinds them.
In the United States, jobs are the top priority of the electorate. More broadly, the economy is the highest policy priority. Yet this simple truth is lost.
Even an idiot understands that jobs are critical and that there aren’t enough. Yet very intelligent experts get sucked into innumerable other priorities, which I do not want to list in their entirety, but these will suffice: increasing taxation of the wealthy, increasing regulation of large corporations, pressuring China on trade, health care reform, subsidies for green technology, education reform, national light rail, infrastructure, mortgage system repair, and somewhere in the background, long forgotten, economic stimulus.
Even an idiot, knowing nothing about the other issues at all, can say with confidence that the order of priorities is wrong, and that the economy, long forgotten in the political arena, actually kind of matters.
There is nothing wrong with this.
Honoring The Common Thinker
What this attitude lacks is humility. It lacks the understanding that you can know a lot of facts, and still make very stupid and wrong decisions. Being smart, or being well informed, is no guarantee of having the right priorities or making the right call.
There is an American expression: a gut check. This is equivalent to a reality check; comparing beliefs to actual reality. You know, opening the horse’s mouth and so forth.
We should do it. Often.
The ordinary, common thinkers who are not experts in the world of Joe Klein, some of which are very well read in the traditions of their native country, are a gut check on the arrogance and selfishness of elites who delude themselves into a belief that if it’s worth knowing, they know it, and if they don’t know it, it isn’t worth knowing.
They are citizens too. They are real. They represent a simpler reality focusing only on the most important truths relevant to them at a given time. That is why even amateurs are getting involved; they have to. They need to. They feel threatened, because the Joe Kleins of the world won’t listen unless their voices congregate around a single, and simple, theme, resonating to the heavens with their unity of message.
That is American politics. That is something the system not only permits, but encourages.
Any other attitude is acting like public policy is the private property of the elites, and common people have an obligation to simply do as their betters tell them. In what world is that democracy? More to the point, it lacks being grounded in simple realities.
Simple, but very, very important.
I will leave this topic for now, but I will return to it later with a fresh hand to show wisdom that is separate from expertise, rather than talk about it. A rebuttal, however, necessitates talking. That is the nature of things. There need be no regret.