Monday, December 8, 2008

Why the brightest (and the urban) are not always the best

I found Frank Rich's column in Sunday's New York Times interesting in relation to the urban elitism I have attributed to the incoming Obama administration and the media's coverage of it (as in this post). Rich's column is titled, "The Brightest are Not Always the Best." Rich's headline refers to David Halberstam's book, "The Best and the Brightest," about "the hubristic J.F.K. team that would ultimately mire America in Vietnam." In his new introduction for the 20th anniversary of the book Halberstam "noted that the book’s title had entered the language, but not quite as he had hoped. 'It is often misused,” he wrote, 'failing to carry the tone or irony that the original intended.'”

Here's an excerpt from Rich's column:
In his 20th-anniversary reflections, Halberstam wrote that his favorite passage in his book was the one where Johnson, after his first Kennedy cabinet meeting, raved to his mentor, the speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, about all the president’s brilliant men. “You may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say,” Rayburn responded, “but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.”

Halberstam loved that story because it underlined the weakness of the Kennedy team: “the difference between intelligence and wisdom, between the abstract quickness and verbal facility which the team exuded, and true wisdom, which is the product of hard-won, often bitter experience.”
Of course, it is not only those with rural pedigrees who have common sense and practical experience -- who may have "run for sheriff once." Nevertheless, there is a great deal to say for a little diversity across the rural-urban axis when you're running a country where rural residents represent a substantial minority of almost one-fifth of the population.

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