Sam Harris in yesterday's LA Times:
Americans have an unhealthy desire to see average people promoted to positions of great authority. No one wants an average neurosurgeon or even an average carpenter, but when it comes time to vest a man or woman with more power and responsibility than any person has held in human history, Americans say they want a regular guy, someone just like themselves. President Bush kept his edge on the "Who would you like to have a beer with?" poll question in 2004, and won reelection.
This is one of the many points at which narcissism becomes indistinguishable from masochism. Let me put it plainly: If you want someone just like you to be president of the United States, or even vice president, you deserve whatever dysfunctional society you get. You deserve to be poor, to see the environment despoiled, to watch your children receive a fourth-rate education and to suffer as this country wages - and loses - both necessary and unnecessary wars.
There's stuff in the second paragraph there that might give you pause. Like the view - from someone unlikely ever to be poor however he votes, any time - that those who vote badly deserve to be poor and to have to send their kids to lousy schools. This when even the wealthiest societies on earth have failed to eliminate poverty. But never mind, we can put it down to loose and angry rhetoric. Harris probably doesn't believe it.
The elision in the first paragraph is worth noting, though. Wanting to elect a regular guy is treated as being on a par with wanting average people in positions of authority; and this, in turn, Harris equates with going for an average neurosurgeon. Well, first of all, being a neurosurgeon requires a formal qualification where being a politician doesn't. So we look for ability in political leaders without demanding from them the years of study and the certification earned on that basis. Experience and the qualities of judgement, prudence, capacity to cope under pressure or in an emergency, etc., are what we hope for, and these we assess on the basis partly of the politician's record and his or her performance under scrutiny of the media and the public.
Secondly, therefore, wanting a regular guy (of either gender) - for those who do want that - should not be merely assumed to mean wanting an average politician. A regular guy, as I take it, is someone without airs, to whom you can imagine yourself chatting, who doesn't talk down to you, with whom indeed you could have a beer or a cup of tea, and all the rest of it. There's nothing to say from this that his or her abilities in filling a position of authority must be no better than average. That presupposes that high ability in a politician goes with some kind of social stand-offishness. Why? The person in question could be just a regular guy and very able.