In her commencement speech to the Vassar College class of 1983, Meryl Streep said, to paraphrase, that she thought life would be like college. But it’s not. It’s like high school.
“The common denominator prevails, ” she said. “Excellence is not always recognized or rewarded. What we watch on our screens, whom we elect, are determined to a large extent by public polls. Looks count. A lot. And unlike the best of the college experience, when ideas and solutions somehow seem attainable if you just get up early, stay up late, try hard enough, and find the right source or method, things on the outside sometimes seem vast and impossible, and settling, resigning oneself, or hiding and hunkering down becomes the best way of getting along.”
We don’t pick the smartest or most capable people to be our leaders. We pick the ones we like the most.
Back when Ronald Reagan was President, a guy I worked for sneered that he was “the most intellectually uncomplicated person who has ever been President.”
People didn’t elect Reagan for his dizzying intellect. They voted because he made them feel comfortable.
Last year, I listened to an audio book about American history. The author pointed out that the television age ushered in another age — picking Presidents who seem likable, regardless of whether or not they are smart, or even seem smart.
The author noted that both Al Gore and John Kerry were probably smarter and more capable leaders than George W. Bush, but Bush’s “aw shucks” style won over many people. In fact, his shredding of the English language endeared him to people who could relate.
The race is not to the swift.
As the nation prepares to watch Joe Biden and Sarah Palin debate tonight, pundits are discussing the “memorable lines” from previous debates.
They show Lloyd Bensen schooling Dan Quayle, for example.
They discuss how important it is for one candidate to utter a zinger that winds up on the news.
But zingers don’t result in success at the polling place. We never had a Vice President Bensen.
The smarter or even the more capable person doesn’t always win. We seem to do a more thorough job of selecting who will run the local YMCA than we do of selecting who will run the country.
It seems as though the bigger the role, the more we rely on superficial qualities to guide our choices.
John McCain or Barack Obama?
It’s a popularity contest.
This time around, I hope the most popular candidate is also the most capable one.