Tuesday, November 11, 2008

We Can Think Again

A funny thing happened on the way to the presidential election. I rediscovered my love for reading essays and editorials.

When I lived in Washington, DC and worked for a US Senator I read the Washington Post and New York Times editorials every morning. It was part of the job description. Morning coffee generally included lively discussions about one or more op-ed pieces.

Since those heady days within the workings of power there has been a dumbing down of America. Even President Bill Clinton hid his brains behind Arkansas folksy talk and stories about hogs. GW Bush and his current White House cabinet openly scorns expertise and avoids words with multiple syllables (not that GW can pronounce them).

But there is a new age as Nicholas D. Kristof writes in his New York Times op-ed piece: Obama and the War on Brains. Seems our new President-elect is an "...open, out of the closet intellectual" complete with favorite philosophers and poets. John F. Kennedy was our last president to be openly intellectual. President Bush, adopted anti-intellectualism as administration policy, and supported No Child Left Behind which merely tests memorized knowledge not your use of it. NO THINKING. Studies show that fully 1/5th of our school children believe the sun orbits the earth. And Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country and not a continent.

Our new President to be thinks. Which all leads me to wonder what Bush and Obama talked about in the White House Oval office for an hour yesterday. Obama talks in paragraphs rather than sound bytes as Kristoff points out in his op-ed piece. Bush frequently does not finish sentences, and is inclined to give you a three word sentence rather than any serious analysis of the situation.

Kristof mentions several White House intellectuals of the past and that it does not necessarily make them good presidents. But thinking people are happier in the company of knowledge and expertise and we are going to need a lot of both to think us out of the mess GW got us into. President Kennedy surrounded himself with the best and brightest and was open to new thought. As Obama puts together his staff, advisors, and cabinet it looks as if he intends to do the same. With the best and brightest in touch with out new leader we have a chance of solving our problems.

During his transition to power I am thrilled that I can come out of the closet about my intellectualism. To quote Kristof again, "An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions."

My favorite philosopher is Jean-Paul Sartre. My favorite poets are a rather long list with John Keats and Walt Whitman and e. e. cummings toward the top. Oh, and I now daily read op-ed pieces from the NYT's on the internet every morning. And a growing list of blogs by bloggers who think. I don't even have to get out of the house and go to the news stand which is good since I live a long way from one.