Ode To the Common Man (and Woman)

Recently, in the political op-ed world, there has been much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the rise of the barbaric blogosphere hordes, who dare challenge the hammerlock that the Mandarin Class and the Punditocracy have over the ‘debate’ in the U.S. What has bothered me the most about the Punditocracy’s reaction is the unwarranted arrogance–does David Brooks really know that much more about Iraq than anyone other reasonably educated person? (Answer: are you kidding? Of course not. He just sounds good when he bloviates).

In response to this jeremiad by Billmon about the resulting stupifying of America, Amanda at Pandagon nails the cause of the Pundit backlash–and it’s ‘elitism’ (italics mine):

The ideal of media objectivity came from the notion that the common man had the intelligence and the right to make up his own mind if given access to the facts. The very best parts of Al Gore’s personality that Billmon is responding to don’t come from his elite background at all; I think they do come from his being the child of a rural populist, from growing up in a political environment where there was at least a half-assed attempt at making the workings of governance inclusive to all people.

I would argue that populism, imperfect as it is, is probably the only thing that could save our collective asses. After all, Gore is taking his slide show to the people because he knows that the elites are too motivated by money to make the necessary changes and only the common man can get it done. The thing that’s sad about the movie is not that it’s a relic of some bygone era when the elites were responsible so much as it’s a relic of a bygone era when it was assumed that your average Joe was a reasonably intelligent person. Gore doesn’t give into the urge to assume that making the information digestible means that you have to dumb it down.

Amanda offers an explanation for the dumbing down of the debate (italics mine):

As for the way that the jackals in the media seem to be sliding downhill in intelligence, I think that’s not because the public demands it so much as that the elite in this country have abandoned the pretense of love of democracy…The audience for the reactionary backlash might be predominantly working class, but the leadership of it is most definitely not. It’s not a populist movement. The better description would be that the elite ruling class is having a prolonged temper tantrum about losing their iron grip on authority and are dumping a megaton of propaganda on people in order to convince them that being intelligent or educated is “elitist”.

I suppose I share Gore’s and Amanda’s optimism about our fellow citizens:

Remember, half the country might not “believe” in evolution but the other half does, and that’s a half that wouldn’t if it weren’t for the 20th century enthusiasm for the common man.

So how do we restore “enthusiasm for the common man” to a generation (or generations) that have no idea what that means? Maybe to restore science education we also have to bolster history education…

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