The Value of Political “Elites”
by Michael Oplinger | Penn State University
Michele Bachmann has a new challenger. Not in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, as the congresswoman from Minnesota has yet to declare her candidacy and potential candidates are declining to run. Bachmann’s challenge instead comes from Amy Myers, a high school sophomore from Cherry Hill, N.J.
Myers has challenged Bachmann to a competition regarding American history and the Constitution, because the high schooler thinks Bachmann does not know nearly as much as she claims. The competition is highly unlikely to ever take place, so who knows who would have won. Myers may have a distinct advantage, as she’s in the heart of her immersion in American history, which isn’t to take away from Bachmann’s knowledge of history, despite her numerous issues with basic historical facts.
But the fact that some people think a high school student could know more about the country than a government official is troubling. It just doesn’t seem right and completely jives with the public’s perception of elected officials. The problem is that we automatically elevate certain people just because they garnered more votes than their opponent. Just because a person wins an election doesn’t mean they know more than us or their opinion matters more than anyone else’s. One of the problems of this country is that we value the opinions of politicians simply because they are in positions of authority.
But in reality, politicians are just normal people who chose to run for public office. They previously held normal jobs just like everyone else. Sure, they are now privileged to more insider information, but that doesn’t mean they have an extraordinary grasp on basic knowledge. Of course, people question the politicians who have different beliefs than they do, but we tend to accept the statements of politicians from our particular party. Government officials are our leaders, but that doesn’t mean they are smarter than us. Just because politicians get a title and a letter in parentheses next to their name doesn’t mean they are members of some exclusive, highly educated group. In fact, this seems to be increasingly the case as elected officials continue to make gaffe after gaffe. Politicians do not seem to be far above the general public intellectually.
But we should want them to be.
There seems to be a misguided movement to remove “elites” from government and replace them with “men of the people.” For some reason, elites have been demonized. The public is seemingly against the best, most qualified people running the country. To me, having the smartest people run the country makes sense. Just like I want the best surgeon to operate on me, the best lawyer to represent me, the best mechanic to fix my car, and the best journalist give me news, I want the best politicians making policy decisions.
I don’t fear representatives who are smarter than me. I want them to be significantly smarter than me. They have to make incredibly difficult decisions about a variety of topics daily, and I want the most intelligent people in the country to do that.
Granted, a balance is desirable. That seems to be why Barack Obama garnered so much support. He was perceived by many to be highly intelligent, as well as from a middle class background. Both factors seem important, but brain capacity seems to outweigh social standing, as elected officials need to possess great knowledge of the world.
After all, politicians are the ones making decisions, not tenth graders.Michael Oplinger is a senior at Penn State majoring in media studies and political science. Michael also is a weekly columnist for the Daily Collegian, Penn State's student newspaper.