Too Excellent?

It gained momentum during the Pennsylvania primary when Obama passed on beer shots and rolled a few gutter balls. Hillary’s peeps went on the attack saying he’s not a regular guy, he’s an elitist, out of touch with beer drinking bowlers who work factory jobs and hunt on the weekends.

The criticisms multiplied after Hockey Mom burst onto the national stage. Obama was too professorial, too intellectual, too eloquent, too damn skinny. He was a media darling, because like him, the media are arrogant out-of-touch east-coast intellectuals. On the other hand, Palin was celebrated for not being professorial, not being intellectual, not being particularly eloquent. She was regular folk. She hunted moose.

Obama was a man of ideas, she was a woman of action. Like ordinary folk, she hopped from anonymous college to anonymous college before graduating and reading the sports news for a living. In contrast, Obama attended the Punahou school, then Occidental, then Columbia, then the bastion of elitism, Harvard, where he became the first African-American to edit the Harvard Law Review.

Even though we tell ourselves that education is important, people are suspicious of those that attend elite institutions. Obama went from editing the Harvard Law Review to a community organizing gig in Chicago which cynics charge was simply a calculated plan to jumpstart his political career. There’s another strike against him, too ambitious.

I understand cynicism, but maybe there was something about growing up poor that combined with classroom and extracurricular experiences at Punaho, Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard that resulted in a genuine social conscience.

For awhile there, at the end of the Republican Convention, when McCain-Palin pulled even, I thought our national motto had become style over substance. Better not to be too poised. Better not to be too intelligent. Better not to be too fit. Better not to be too ambitious.

All of a sudden conservative Republicans who always advocate for excellence over equity were back-pedaling en masse.

Obama illustrated there was a tipping point, one can be too excellent. I can’t help but wonder if latent racism explains why many on the right felt compelled to portray Obama’s excellence as elitism.

Even last Wednesday night, McCain repeatedly referenced how eloquent Obama was, by which he meant, he’s just too smooth, he can’t be trusted. 

So Obama’s probable victory will restore my faith that what I’ve attempted to model and teach my children—pursue excellence in school, learn to communicate well, take care of your body, be ambitious about serving others—still resonate despite the best efforts of the Palin fanbase to retreat on excellence and dumb down the election.

1 thought on “Too Excellent?

  1. From what I understand of Obama’s life he sounds like one version of the American success story. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth and didn’t have parents or grandparents who counted ivy league schools as their alma mater. Was he a recipient of affirmative action? I don’t know. Perhaps, but my guess is much ofhis success can be attributed to hard work and scholarships (while also fighting the extra battle of racism).

    Isn’t that the All-American success story that our No Child Left Behind and other edcucational reforms are aimed at producing? Shouldn’t we celebrate his success and feel proud that he was able to achieve it in our country- whether or not he becomes our next president? Shouldn’t he be looked at as a role model? Millions of poor people in countless countries around the world idealize the U.S. as one of the few countries in the world where someone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and go from rags to riches- why are we embarrassed and critical of one of those people (starting with Obama’s father who came to the US from Kenya on a scholarship) to whom it really happened? Strange.

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