As primaries approach and voting begins, the stakes are high. David Neff cautions about the choice between experienced politicians and dabblers.
With an increasingly polarized political climate, it is easy to assume that the best presidential candidate would be the person who is most similar to the nation’s citizenry. This argument is flawed; the person who is most amicable and fun to have a beer with is not necessarily the person most qualified to involve themselves in domestic policy and foreign affairs.
A revered tradition of the American family is spending the holidays eating, drinking, and debating politics. Many an afternoon has been spent by people with no political background, or education, concurring with one another’s improvements to the nation’s state of affairs. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, “Because I agree with a candidate’s position, and I think I could run the country well, the candidate must be the right person to assume the presidential mantle.”
Elitism should not be confused with gentry or so-called dynasties, such as the Clintons, Bushes, or Kennedys. Certain Founding Fathers railed against political strength being passed through bloodlines. Thomas Jefferson famously argued for short political terms so as to limit the influence an individual or their family could have on national policy. In a letter to Edmund Pendleton, Jefferson wrote that public servants should have limited terms to ensure they not forget the role of both the governing and the governed.
When referencing elitism, one must assess a candidate’s training, background, education, and experience with local politics. An individual without some form of higher education or experience, while perhaps idealistic, simply lacks the facilities to deal with the demands of the modern world. Most of the current presidential candidates are, at least on paper, well-prepared to become the head of state. They have law degrees from Yale and Harvard, and doctorates in neurosurgery. These should be the people we look to for guidance and leadership in a global society.
However, the ability to simply pay for a college degree has proven to be a poor watermark, as in the case of George W. Bush’s failed presidency. Although he was elected governor of the State of Texas, his business acumen and limited government experience proved to be insufficient when dealing with the needs of a country. His was not a case of elitism, but of simple nepotism and dynasticism allowing an under-educated, under-prepared candidate to ascend to a sociopolitical standing much higher than deserved.
Unfortunately, a large number of candidates have given in to pandering to the layperson, in a grasp for votes in their electorates. Even the progressive stalwart Bernie Sanders is not without fault. One would be hard-pressed to find a candidate that has not acquiesced to the pressures of appealing to the “common person.” These are not the types of leaders the United States needs. The urge to promote regressive or stagnant policies has remained in the background of American politics since the nation’s inception.
The leaders of this country were historically well-to-do white men, with a great deal of financial backing from both their families and from business interests. This model is outdated, but can be learned from. A modern approach requires individuals to not only have experience, but also the mental prowess to deal with unfamiliar and difficult situations. Candidates may not be entrepreneurs, but still require the basic knowledge of economic and social systems. This is not snobbery, but an elitism in the sense of true preparedness and political savvy.
Our next president must be a person with the vision to advance a progressive agenda. This requires them to have the education and experience to use tact, diplomacy, and the appropriate tools to achieve their goals. By electing a leader who is overly concerned with appealing to a certain class base, we allow them to devalue the issues at hand. Focus must be given to science, education, social programs, economics, and foreign policy. To achieve these goals, our leaders must have the knowledge and, to some degree, foresight to navigate the changing political waters on both a domestic and foreign level.