“There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when…”

Two ongoing interests in my life, the ongoing search for full-time employment and my deep-rooted fear that any Republican may win the presidency next year, converge in this column in the Washington Post. Addressing Texas governor Rick Perry’s recent disavowal of evolution to a young kid, biologist Richard Dawkins rebuts:

[For the modern Republican party,] Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

Any other organization — a big corporation, say, or a university, or a learned society – -when seeking a new leader, will go to immense trouble over the choice. The CVs of candidates and their portfolios of relevant experience are meticulously scrutinized, their publications are read by a learned committee, references are taken up and scrupulously discussed, the candidates are subjected to rigorous interviews and vetting procedures. Mistakes are still made, but not through lack of serious effort.

The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.

Dawkins continues:

A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy…. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well….You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today (emphasis added).

Two thoughts here: First, it stuns me the process that individuals in my field have to go through just to get a job, as Dawkins writes about any selection process, and yet idiots like Rick Perry make it to a governorship and become front-runners for president. I hope this isn’t what the Right means by “American exceptionalism.” But it also tells us worlds about the role of charisma and sheer luck in determining who gets by in this world (being a white male doesn’t hurt, either). A side note: Bill Clinton is known for his charisma…but he has the brains to back up his success. But Clinton doesn’t embody the deep divide in the U.S., the manifestation of our epistemological differences that characterize the anti-science, corporatist radical right from the rest of the country. Rick Perry (and Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin) does.

Second, Dawkins perfectly encapsulates what is most frustrating about the Right’s anti-intellectualism these days. I’m not sure how many of my Republican friends traipse on over to my blog any more, but Dawkins is right about you: Do you really want a beer buddy or the person who sits next to you in the church pew on the one day a week you choose to exercise your Christian values to be president of the United States?

I want someone who can kick my ass to lead my country, not a former Aggie yell leader (gawd, if you only knew my disdain for frat boys back in the day…). But if Republicans at all, even for a second, find themselves outraged at Dawkins’ characterization of the Republican vetting process for president these days, at his apt observation at the amoral values that drive the Republican party, they need to ask themselves why it upsets them. Perhaps then this country will snap out of its bewitchment with the astroturfed, manufactured anger funded by corporations with no interest at all in perpetuating what truly defines American exceptionalism: democracy.


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