Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the sgreement with syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)
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       Let’s give Barack Obama the credit he deserves. He has worked very hard to overcome the big disadvantage of his youth. I am referring, of course, to his Ivy League education.
       Let’s pause for the voices of outrage (refined, of course), screaming bloody murder that this is some “anti-intellectual” screed — a term academics love to use when anyone dares to intrude on their self-image of inherent superiority.
       It is not. This is anti-arrogance and, at the same time, anti-inane, as you’ll see when you read on. But first, the haughtiness part, the kind that seems to be part of the curriculum in the temples of higher education, where students mainly major in networking. Through their alumni cabals, they take care of their own and appoint each other to run things. At the very same time they have made a huge mess of just about every facet of our society. Still they flaunt their obvious low regard for those they consider beneath them. Their snootiness, in turn, is easily exploited by opportunists whose one talent is demagoguery.
       The ammunition for these rabble-rousing politicians comes from the brainier-than-thou crowd. I was watching a member of my pundit subspecies gabbing away on some news program, cheaply filling the time between commercial breaks. I heard him discuss polls measuring the preferences of a demographic he labeled “uneducated.” Realizing he had slipped, he quickly blurted, “Uh, I mean those without a college education.” At least he recognized his blunder. Far too many wouldn’t understand why it was one. Unfortunately, he also revealed the kind of condescension that understandably irritates the people he would consider “lessers.” In his mind, they may not be deserving but, hey, they do have the right to vote, and their pique is being milked for all it’s worth by opportunistic candidates like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Joe the Plumber and, of course, Sarah Palin.
       Santorum gets his traction by charging that President Obama’s emphasis on a college education makes him a “snob.” Many others like to make a virtue of their ignorance or lack of qualification by rebuffing any questions as “elitist.” They do make the valid point that it’s the highbrows who have laid us low

       So, on the one hand, we have patronizing; on the other, bitterness. Instead of communication, we have contempt. Those who vehemently argue that there is a wide variety of talents useful to our society make what should be an obvious point. To dismiss anyone as somehow inferior, which happens all too often, is contemptible. It only serves to obscure the point that educational pursuit and deep thinking also should be celebrated, not disparaged.
       Our life and issues today are far too complicated for the sound-bite slogans we get from our campaigners and, frankly, from media who favor heat over light. When we refuse to do the hard work of democracy, we make easy targets for the likes of Gingrich and Santorum, who can spew out distortions and even superstitious nonsense. They find a willing audience among those who prefer to not be botyhered by complexities. Health care with its maze of particulars? Forget about it. It’s so much fun to simply call medical reform “socialism” and tax reform “class warfare.” Women’s issues? “War on Religion”
       The self-promoters who tactically use this moronic phrase-mongering pander to our worst instincts and do it with no conscience. On the other hand, the self-important ones who scorn the masses, those they disparage as riffraff, don’t seem to understand why their supercilious attitude antagonizes they the people. It is true that a little bit of knowledge can cause a great amount of harm. So, too, can book learning fester in the minds of the undeserving, who fail to recognize the potential value everyone brings to our society. There is one word that describes the hostility on both sides: “stupid.”
       © 2012 Bob Franken

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