Frank Bruni is quickly becoming my favorite NYT columnist. He’s perfect for this blog’s brand of meta-commentary: not a complete idiot like Friedman, nor a really intelligent person like Krugman, with just enough insight to begin a correct argument, but never enough to see it through. A real triumph of the Middle Way!
In fact it’s proper that we begin by comparing intellects, since Bruni’s latest piece is about why we shouldn’t bother, at least in the realm of politics. Bruni argues that it’s not awfully proper to bash Rick Perry for his weak academic performance (although he helps himself to a couple jabs) because, after all, Obama did great at school, and still totally sucks at being president. Fair enough, although Bruni makes rather a big deal of the commonplace insight that being good at school is not the same as being good at anything else, which is obvious to any…schoolchild.
Back in 2008, my mom asked her right-wing best friend why she supported Sarah Palin. “I feel like she understands me, that she’s just like me,” my mom’s friend said. To which my mom replied: “What? But you’re an idiot! Why do you want to be ruled by someone just as stupid as you?”
Mom voted for Obama, who turned out to be far less clever than she imagined, but nevertheless she was making an interesting point. Now to conduct the discussion intelligently, we have to move it away from the sphere of psephology and into the science of class analysis; for if the average American were truly as dumb as the average American politician, I would rather espouse cannibalism than socialism (to paraphrase an old joke from Tony Cliff). The President of the United States is in fact the President of the Ruling Class of the United States, and likewise for the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and so on. That’s true in any state. What’s curious about the state today–ie, the neoliberal state–is that its politicians and functionaries are an unusually faithful reproduction of the class it serves. This is worth thinking about.