Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bernard Avishai on Obama the Elitist

Bernard Avishai, Contributing Editor of Harvard Business Review, splits his time between Jerusalem and Wilmot, New Hampshire. He’s taught at Duke, MIT, and was director of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel.

Read his comments about Barack Obama's "elitist" remarks, words that Obama himself called "clumsy."

...IMAGINE that Orwell ran for Parliament in a working-class district after the war, and gave an interview in which he said that poor people sometimes cling to religious dogmas or xenophobia to try to make sense of their world. Imagine his Tory opponent—knowing full well that few people in the working-class actually read essays or books—suggested that Orwell, that author, was elitist. Imagine that a columnist for (of all places) the Times of London picked up the story and accused Orwell of being—how did Dowd put it?—less a candidate than an anthropologist.

I guess the idea is that if you are brilliant enough to write, and write movingly, about your years in poverty, your gratitude for the transcendent life of the mind, your decision to organize against despair with compassion and mentoring, your years defending people downtrodden by forces they cannot control, your loved ones in far-flung parts of the world, pitting their magic against alcohol—indeed, if you can write anything without a ghostwriter—then you must think you are smarter than ordinary people, and must therefore be “out of touch.” (On the other hand, if you are accustomed to privilege, and educated to triangulation, so that you know how to buy a ghost writer who'll make you appear a populist, then, by definition, you don’t think you’re so smart, and must therefore be close to ordinary people.)

So here is an anthropological question for you. What do you say about the future of a democracy that buys this stuff?

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