In his recent column (“Enough Disrespect,” 10/28), Adam Hirst denounced Yalies for our contemptuous rejection of the masses and their opinions and views. I would like to ask him: What exactly are we “rejecting” in our “contempt” for “the masses”? When I talk with my politically passionate friends who are heavily invested in the outcome of this election and have painstakingly thought-through ideas about the direction the country ought to be heading, I don’t find contempt for people qua people.
Rather, as Gail Collins said of Barack Obama in an New York Times op-ed column this summer, we have a general opposition to stupidity and lack of perspective. That claim is at least as true of Yalies as it is of Americans.
We have a general contempt for mass ideas that defy good reasoning, such as that religiosity is a fair or reasonable litmus test for politicians. We have contempt for those ideas that fly in the face of overwhelming evidence, like the claim, which many conservatives still spout, that Saddam had a hand in 9/11 or that Obama is a Muslim (or that it matters at all either way). And we have contempt for ideas that trend toward elevating mediocrity and jingoism, namely the anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant, overtly hawkish sentiments of red America. We have contempt, in other words, for what one would be apt, if impolitic, to describe as mass thought impairment.
Yalies are not without precedent in their disdain for the masses. As Hirst, the chairman of the Yale Political Union’s Conservative Party, knows all too well, many of the Founding Fathers held a passionate disdain for democracy that was borne of their distrust of the masses. In the Federalist Papers, in which three of the Founders defend the proposed governmental structure of the Republic, they write of empowering the people out of necessity, not for any inherent traits of the people.
Indeed, Hamilton extolled the necessity of a consolidated Union as the only means to avert perpetual war among independent states full of people he described as “ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.” The government is to be kept dependent on the masses, as this is the best way to avoid tyranny and abuse, but at the same time the government is a Republic and not a Democracy to essentially protect the people from themselves.
Further, Hirst claims, “National candidates reflect the best of this nation, as agreed upon by segments of our population.” I think he is a bit too quick to brush past the “as agreed upon by segments of our population” part. He would seemingly have you think that any candidate for national office is enlightened and well-suited for leadership. In Federalist 10, Madison profoundly disagrees, noting that all too often factionalism — what we now call partisanship — often trumps meritocracy, and that all too often we get candidates who are essentially demagogues playing to the base. “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”
Anyone who disagrees has obviously not been paying attention these past eight years.
To address McCain’s specific deficiencies as a candidate for leader of the free world, I want to start with Hirst’s own words: “This pattern of reflection and affection with respect for the American people is as alive as ever.” While one would be hard-pressed to find contempt for various segments of Americans in the Obama campaign rhetoric, one would have no difficulty at all identifying rhetoric alienating blacks, Muslims, the non-religious, immigrants, homosexuals, Arabs (or anyone from the Middle East), the urban populace, Blue-State Americans, etc. in the McCain/Palin campaign, as many prominent conservatives, most recently Colin Powell, have lamented publicly. Legitimate policy and philosophical differences aside, how is this good for America?
If we Yalies (and thinking people in general) are to respect “the masses” and a nominee they chose as “the best of this nation,” then the nominee should at the very least be respectful toward the many people and traditions embodied in “this nation” and not sacrifice them to his political convenience.
Anthony LeCounte is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College.