October 22, 2007

Late Night with [Politician's Name]

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Late night television has become a staple of American culture. In turn, presidential candidates have had to appear on late night shows to display their light sides and bring some joy to the race for the White House. Candidates nowadays are winning votes partially based on likeability and how well a given candidate can relate to the “common man.” This week Barack Obama was the latest installment of what I like to call “Candidate Made a Funny.” Obama successfully proved that he is a friendly guy as he made small talk with Jay Leno. There is nothing wrong with doing any of this. However, our elected leaders should be elite and should be smarter than the rest of us.
The leader of the United States should not be an “ordinary guy” (I am not even entirely sure what that phrase means). Elite has become a bad word when in fact elites are needed to allow this country to function. On the same episode of Jay Leno’s show that Obama appeared on, there was a segment in which people on the street were asked various questions about U.S. history. When asked whom the U.S. gained her independence from following the American Revolution, answers included France, Canada, and Mexico. Certainly, this is an extreme case. Nonetheless, we should want leaders who are smarter than we are. When Winston Churchill was told he must keep his ear to the ground, he responded with, “the British nation will find it very hard to look up to leaders who are detected in this position.”
We should also make sure not to be fooled by candidates’ attempts to appear “ordinary.” Let us not forget that Obama attended Columbia, Hillary Clinton attended Yale Law School, and Mitt Romney attended Stanford and Harvard. The point here is not that we should vote based on the college that a candidate when to. Rather, the point is that when candidates appear on late night television or tell jokes, we cannot be fooled by it. We need to look at the policies and values of a candidate. Undoubtedly, the president should be able to relate to people and communicate ideas to the citizenry. Yet at the same time, this does not mean that politics should be simplified. The president has an extremely difficult job at hand, and the role requires an intelligent and competent leader. By “dumbing down” rhetoric, politicians are doing a great disservice to the American people. The problem most of the time is that we are not aware of it and we take a sound-byte as representative of a candidate and his policies.
The president of the U.S. needs to be many things. Chief among them is intelligence, and we cannot forget this. If a politician goes on a late night show and is not funny or captivating, should we not vote for him? If a candidate has personal flaws, should he immediately be discounted? By now you probably know my answer to these questions. I am not asserting that our politicians should be perfect, because if that was the case, our entire political system might crumble due to a lack of qualified candidates. The late night appearances by candidates are entertaining and are a good change of pace from the humdrum campaigning. However, let us keep in mind that elite is not a bad word and that maybe an elite president is what we need.