I’ve long admired Victor Davis Hanson’s work. In this piece, one of his very best, he nails those who think academic credentials are the true indication of intelligence.
Hanson’s background growing up in rural California, combined with his stellar university career and experience with professorial types, combine to give him an unusual perspective on the comparison between the two worlds and what sort of intellect is demonstrated by those in each sphere.
The impetus for the Hanson piece is the astonishing condescension—and downright contempt—displayed by so many supposedly well-educated people towards Sarah Palin because of her alleged lack of brainpower and her non-elite education. I’ve touched on similar thoughts in this post, but I think the Hanson article is so excellent that I’m going to quote from it at length:
…the most brilliant Greek philologists seemed no more impressive in their aptitude than the fellow who could take apart the transmission of an old Italian Oliver tractor, fix it, and put it back together–without a manual. And I knew three or four who could. The inept mechanic seemed no more dull than the showy graduate student who could not distinguish an articular infinitive from an accusative of respect.
My seventy-year old Austrian professor who, off the cuff, could recite the lettering peculiarities of some 100 or so Athenian inscriptions on stone was brilliant-but no more intuitive or impressive than my grandfather who at 86 could scan 100 rows of vines under irrigation, instantly access how many acre feet of water were in the field, how many more needed, and then screw up or down an iron gate on a 20-foot standpipe and ensure the ditch water reached the end of each row–and only the end of each row.
For most of you readers, all this is trite and self-evident. But apparently not for hundreds in politics, the media, the universities, Hollywood, and the foundations who seem to think that a fumbling nervous Obama in interviews, who grasps for a word and utters vacuous platitudes is “really” contemplative, like his Harvard Law professors; but when a Sarah Palin seems nervous under scrutiny from a pseudo-professorial, glasses-on-the-lower-nose Charlie Gibson, she is clearly an empty head with an Idaho BA.
A Ronald Reagan knew more about human nature, and thus what drives the Soviet Union than did all the Ivy-League Soviet specialists that surrounded Jimmy Carter-much less the Sally Quins and Maureen Dowds of that age. We in America, unlike the Europeans, know this intuitively, grasp that a Harry Truman figured out the Russian communists far better than did the Harvard-educated aristocrat FDR.
The Harry Truman analogy is familiar, if I do say so myself. And I do say so myself, since I wrote the following, two days after Palin’s nomination:
Palin[‘s] personal vibe is a bit like that of Harry Truman. Although he had a much longer pre-VP tenure in national political life than either candidate (twelve years as Senator from Missouri) he, like Palin, was a folksy down-to-earth plainspeaking rural sort. He even wore the wire-rimmed eyeglasses, although they didn’t look as good on him as they do on her (and Truman bears the distinction of having been the last President who didn’t even go to college).
Truman was a Vice-President who became President on the demise of FDR, although Roosevelt had kept him out of the information loop:
Truman had been vice president for only 82 days when President Roosevelt died, 12 April, 1945. He had had very little meaningful communication with Roosevelt about world affairs or domestic politics after being sworn in as vice president, and was completely uninformed about major initiatives relating to the successful prosecution of the war—notably the top secret Manhattan Project, which was about to test the world’s first atomic bomb.
Shortly after taking the oath of office, Truman said to reporters:
“Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”
What a rube. And yet as President he managed to do rather well, or so I hear.