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'Elitist' Tag Knocks Education

By Stanley Crouch

Nothing has been quite as exciting and as disappointing or even disgusting as the grand drama of this Democratic contest for the nomination.

We have seen Barack Obama rise and, with a new tone, make biracial identity a public fact of American life. We have also seen Americans reinvigorated, surging with a refreshing patriotism that is fully aware of the country's shortcomings.

We have seen America's history of struggling toward fairness become, perhaps for the first time, a common heritage that crossed lines of color, class, religion, region and sexual identity.

In Obama's world, every American can lay claim to the Constitution, to the Abolition movement, to the destruction of the slavery system by the Civil War, to women getting the vote, to organized labor, to the defeat of fascism and to the victories of the Civil Rights movement. Those were not the struggles and the victories of special interest groups.

As Patrick Buchanan predicted, the only hope for Obama's foes was to knock him off of his pedestal and into the mud-wrestling we have seen define our politics. But the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was the big bomb that didn't quite go off.

Wright's ethnic Gong Show - and the vast right-wing conspiracy that Hillary Clinton joined when she helped to give it credence - may have allowed Clinton to greasily slip through the door of victory in Indiana, but it raised issues that should make us stop on a dime.

Columbia- and Harvard-educated, bad-bowling Obama is an elite, the conservatives - and the Clintons - claim. He is out of touch with the working class, they say.

It has become commonplace for the predictable millionaire puppets of Fox News and their conservative talk radio counterparts to present themselves as the voices of the working class in combat with an educated elite from places like Harvard.

But beneath those cliches fester ideas that are deeply anti-democratic.

They are anti-democratic because they scoff at this basic truth: Education is the key to social mobility in our country. The stereotyped working class has no innate limits. It has produced the majority of doctors, engineers, architects, educators and others who realized the dreams of their families by studying hard and moving into careers quite different from those of their parents and their neighbors.

Education has always been viewed as suspect by everyone from slave owners to totalitarians. Wherever in the world you find them, they share one hostility: They hate books.

The presidency is not an Academy Award for Best Performance as a bowler, a fast food gobbler, a whisky and beer guzzler, a hard-hat-wearer or a hunter. We ought to know how far leadership capabilities are from surfaces, slogans and costumes.

And we should be ever suspicious of anyone or any group that scorns education, that pretends to believe that only the simple and the uncomplicated can express the national ethos.

That is absolutely ridiculous in a country from which so much technological and scientific innovation has come. Tell that to Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers or Bill Gates, none of whom were from the upper class. Or are we to believe they were just simple men looking for a loud bar and a cold beer?

The precious opportunity that our democracy provides is the chance to stop, look, listen and think through all that history has taught us about the bottom and about the top.

Real leadership is something internal, not superficial, and should be judged by substance, policy and solutions that are empathetic but realistic, inventive, fiscally responsible and feasible. No one knows the taste of pie in the sky, but we have all felt and smelled the putrid humidity of hot air.

crouch.stanley@gmail.com

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