A defense of Obama’s pretensions

William Witwer

Many of his more conservative opponents see President Obama as either an elitist Washington insider, or a radical Muslim socialist bent on tearing our country apart. Or, in spite of the apparent contradictions, both at the same time. Such is the detrimentally divisive political climate we live in.

Though the radical liberal label is almost laughable (he’s a fairly conservative Democrat, whatever his opposition says), the elitist one is much harder to shake. For one thing, he went to Harvard Law School and was president of the Law Review there. He speaks with eloquence and heavily emphasized diction; even the most conservative of politicians grudgingly acknowledges this skill, though most turn it into a criticism of his ability to get things done: i.e. he can only give brilliant speeches rather than enact policy.

And, by many appearances, he is an elitist, as he attended the school with the best reputation in the country and became that middle-class dream of a position, a lawyer (and a writer); his skills with the English language do, at least in my opinion, place him among the elite. Many Tea Party members feel that he does not represent the “real America,” that his public persona reeks with the stench of a high-brow academic mindset. I guess they miss the folksiness of President Bush.

I don’t. I think that his command of our language demonstrates his intelligence, even if it is not as politically appealing as, say, Ronald Reagan. I think his membership in the elite and pretentious Harvard University shows a commitment to learning and is representative of how extraordinary he really is. Because, in all fairness, the appearance of pretentiousness (which is generally just intelligence) is only a bad thing when it attacks people without just cause.

I don’t mean that pretentiousness is good in all forms. I just think that it’s good to have high standards for who gets to lead our country. Devoid of politics, would you rather have a Texas daddy’s boy who don’t speak real good and who got C’s at Yale, or a brilliant student in charge of the Harvard Law Review? I think pretentiousness (as in standards) should be celebrated, because they lead to better results, or at leas the hope that better results are possible.

I do not mean to suggest that every person who smokes self-wrapped cigarettes, likes to talk about movies and bands you’ve never heard of and just generally likes to assert the depth and breadth of their intelligence: i.e. pretentiousness in its conventional form: should be running our country. Nor do I wish to assert that those who are not entrenched in the celebrated institutions of this country are somehow lesser; I just perceive it as an offensive criticism that Obama being a member of the elite is a bad thing.

Not that I don’t understand the populist anger; the Tea Party members are angry with the direction that the country is going, the size of the government, the influence of lobbyists, the lack of accessible jobs. They see Obama’s intellectualism as cold and without empathy, though they wouldn’t agree with him anyway. I just don’t think we should be critical of him for this trait. Politics aside, the fact that he was elected shows that maybe, just maybe, Americans do actually have standards and pretensions about the quality of their leadership.

That being said though, Obama needs to be more emotional come election season, because many Americans vote with their hearts, not their heads. In this sense, the issues matter less than how they are presented. Yet Obama’s pretensions should not be used against him, even though they will be.