by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
October 2, 2008
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Here are some of the characteristics I want in the next President of the United States: strength, character, intelligence, confidence, the ability to learn from mistakes, empathy, emotional control, a moral compass and the ability to inspire.
Lots of luck, right?
These traits come courtesy of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who did a story, "The Secrets of America's Great Presidents," for Parade Magazine a few weeks ago. Notice that being a down-to-earth fellow with whom I would enjoy having a beer is not among the traits.
We are living in an America that celebrates airheads.
Watch a few reality shows if you don't believe me - or are you surprised that Holly, Kendra and whatever-her-name-is have found hot young boyfriends and didn't really love Hef that much after all?
Read a celebrity magazine and wonder why anyone would care whether Jennifer Aniston has found a husband. Or consider that the top question asked about Barack Obama on Google is how tall he is.
Or check out the new McDonald's coffee ads. They're going after Starbucks by degrading Starbucks customers. In one ad, two women at McDonald's are rejoicing because they no longer have to listen to jazz and read real books. One woman says she can finally read fluffy celebrity magazines in peace. Then she confesses, gleefully, "I don't know where Paraguay is."
So much for world literature, geographic literacy and the Fair Trade movement.
The dumbing down of America is so complete that the Republicans, with a straight face, nominated Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin to be the vice president of the United States - a woman with no credentials, no empathy, no intellectual curiosity, no experience and no comprehension of the dangerous and complex world we live in. While the rest of the world is trying to save the polar bears from drowning, she is shooting them for sport. Sarah Palin is the sound of the Republican party slapping us across the face with its contempt.
In Sunday's The New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon interviewed Charles Murray, the same conservative social scientist who, in the mid-1990s in "The Bell Curve," said that African-Americans have lower IQs than Caucasians. (My response to him then remains the same as it is today: How do you explain Duke Ellington?)
"Why is the McCain clan so eager to advertise its anti-intellectualism," Solomon asked.
Murray's response was classic. "The last thing we need are more pointy-headed intellectuals running the government."
The last thing we need? Maybe it's the first thing we need. Perhaps if we hadn't voted in 2000 for the guy we most wanted to have a beer with, the World Trade Center might still be standing, we might not have invaded Iraq, New Orleans would still be the vibrant city it once was, there wouldn't be foreclosure signs stretching from sea to shining sea, gas wouldn't hit four bucks a gallon and the financial markets wouldn't be in meltdown mode?
I'm not saying intelligence should be the sole determinant for choosing a leader. Character flaws can get in the way. The "smartest guys in the room" brought us Enron. And who knows how smart those guys on Wall Street were until their greed and sleight-of-hand brought the market crashing down on their heads?
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that Franklin Delano Roosevelt - one of Goodwin's role-model presidents - had "a second rate intellect but a first rate temperament." FDR knew enough to scour the campuses of the country's elite educational institutions to find intelligent men and women to bring to Washington - they were called the "Brain Trust" - to solve the problems of the Great Depression. Then he made peace with his industrialist opponents and brought them into the government to help him fight Germany and Japan. Confidence, flexibility, a willingness to grow and change, an ability to learn from his mistakes and an awareness of ordinary people's suffering were all hallmarks of his leadership.
How, in this complicated world, can anti-intellectualism be the foundation of a presidential campaign? Ingenuity and creativity are American hallmarks. Once we had a society that fostered those things. Now we have dopes like Sarah Palin trying to teach creationism in public schools, the every-sperm-is-sacred crowd shutting down stem cell research, and the Bush Administration rewriting scientific papers to support its dimwitted free-market-uber-alles policies.
While we dither over whether dinosaurs coexisted with people, the rest of the world is working hard on solutions to the many crises that are threatening to overwhelm us all.
And they're watching to see what America does next. They can't vote, but they support Obama because there's a glimmer of intelligence there. There's a hope that we won't remain the arrogant and idiotic country that we've been for the past eight years. There's a general feeling that if we screw this one up, whatever shreds of respect still remaining for American will vanish.
At the end of Goodwin's story, Parade invites its readers to go on-line and rate Obama and McCain for their leadership qualities. When you go to the Web site, however, the poll is missing. What's leading Parade's news as I write this? "Still King Of The World? Leonardo DiCaprio on why he became an actor and what he really thinks about marriage."
America, what are you thinking?
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.