In his column ("Rejecting an Aristocracy of Experts," Op-Ed Page, Oct. 19), Michael Novak claims that Michael Dukakis represents the arrogant aristocracy of managerial "experts" who look down on ordinary people and tell them that they are stupid; the common people are going for George Bush because he wants to be loved as one of them and be the self-image they desire to see in their "king." Novak may be right about the way in which many people respond to the office of President, but I refuse to simply accept that American presidential politics has come to this.
Count me among the arrogant aristocracy, if you wish. I insist that when it comes to choosing leaders, reason is more reliable than emotion.
Does that mean I'm superior to "the common people"? No. Coming from a working-class family (neither of my parents went to high school), I'm much more "common" than Bush or Dan Quayle will ever be. If there are "common people" who conclude that Bush is "one of us" because he eats pork rinds on television, if there are women who believe that Quayle's good looks are a good reason to vote for him, then one should not hesitate to call those people stupid. But such stupidity, the object of cynical calculation by Republican campaign strategists, does not define the class of ordinary people. And the fact that an unthinking approach to politics is commonly shared does not make it "common sense."
Every politician wants to be popular. But that does not justify playing on people's emotions or appealing to the worst in people: greed, selfishness, fear, bigotry, xenophobia. The experience of fascism in Europe should have discredited once and for all this enthusiasm for "fatherly kings." But some people never learn.
The irony of all this, of course, is that Republicans are made to represent the common people, while the Democrats become the arrogant elite. Meanwhile, the reality is that Republican policies encourage an ever greater division between a wealthy, well-educated elite and an entertained but uninformed mass, whose ignorance the Republicans can exploit to win elections. It's time to dispense forever with the myths of Richard Nixon's "silent majority," Bush's "mainstream," and Novak's "common people."
If the Dukakis campaign has been arrogant, it's been in taking for granted the broad group of disenfranchised and disaffected voters who were stirred into action by the Jesse Jackson campaign. If Bush wins this election, it will be because Dukakis wasted too much time going after that relatively small group of know-nothings called "Reagan Democrats."
JAMES T. ANDERSON