A Campaign o’ Dolts
November 6, 2011
I don’t often agree with The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, but I think he’s got a point in his column today. Speaking of the failed meritocracy of modern American leaders he says:
“In meritocracies . . . it’s the very intelligence of our leaders that creates the worst disasters. Convinced that their own skills are equal to any task or challenge, meritocrats take risks than lower-wattage elites would never even contemplate, embark on more hubristic projects, and become infatuated with statistical models that hold out the promise of a perfectly rational and frictionless world.
“Inevitably, pride goeth before a fall. Robert McNamara and the Vietnam-era whiz kids thought they had reduced war to an exact science. Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin thought that they had done the same to global economics. The architects of the Iraq war thought that the American military could liberate the Middle East from the toils of history; the architects of the European Union thought that a common currency could do the same for Europe. And Jon Corzine thought that his investment acumen equipped him to turn a second-tier brokerage firm into the next Goldman Sachs, by leveraging big, betting big and waiting for the payoff.”
But turning to dolts isn’t the answer either. Running ideological idiots for office instead of brilliant ones is not going to get us to the promised land. That will take some humility. Though I don’t put much stock in the literalness of the Bible many of the leaders portrayed in that book had a high humility quotient. Some like Moses and the prophets, when pressed into service by god reacted with great reluctance saying, “Lord, Lord, not me; I’m not up to the task.” Today we get hubristic freaks who, under the weight of enormous egos, jump in without a clue.
As Douthat concludes:
“What you see in today’s Republican primary campaign is . . . a revolt against the ruling class that our (failed) meritocracy has forged, and a search for outsiders with thinner résumés but better instincts.
“But from Michele Bachmann to Herman Cain, the outsiders haven’t risen to the challenge. It will do America no good to replace the arrogant with the ignorant, the overconfident with the incompetent.
“In place of reckless meritocrats, we don’t need feckless know-nothings. We need intelligent leaders with a sense of their own limits, experienced people whose lives have taught them caution. We still need the best and brightest, but we need them to have somehow learned humility along the way.”