I didn’t watch the Rick Warren Saddleback forum.  I’m not exactly sure why Barack Obama agreed to do it in the first place.  Obviously Obama would like to get a piece of the Evangelical vote and he certainly would like to shed the image that he’s a Muslim, a mischaracterization that many still believe.  But what really did he expect to gain from appearing before a group of people that aren’t going to vote for him anyway?  By all accounts, the perceived winner was the candidate you supported to begin with.

McCain supporters liked his short, quick answers, often delivered before Warren had finished asking the question.  Op-ed columnist Michael Gerson predictably picked McCain as the clear winner,

What took place instead under Warren’s precise and revealing questioning was the most important event so far of the 2008 campaign — a performance every voter should seek out on the Internet and watch.

First, the forum previewed the stylistic battle lines of the contest ahead, and it should give Democrats pause. Obama was fluent, cool and cerebral — the qualities that made Adlai Stevenson interesting but did not make him president. Obama took care to point out that he had once been a professor at the University of Chicago, but that bit of biography was unnecessary. His whole manner smacks of chalkboards and campus ivy. Issues from stem cell research to the nature of evil are weighed, analyzed and explained instead of confronted. (emphasis added)

Gerson’s anti-intellectualism is showing.  In a society where education is supposedly valued, Gerson’s most stinging jibe is that Obama “smacks of chalkboards and campus ivy.”  Many, if not most, American parents aspire to send their children to college but to Gerson, apparently a college education is a liability in a president, or at least acting like you have one.  Moreover, in Gerson’s world, understanding a problem and confronting it are mutually exclusive activities, “Issues from stem cell research to the nature of evil are weighed, analyzed and explained instead of confronted.”  As if it’s not possible or desirable to analyze a situation before acting on it.  To conservatives like Gerson, nuance is a sign of weakness while bold action based on instinct is a sign of strength.  Bush is famous for this, “we don’t do nuance,” of course his approval ratings are so embarrassingly low that even McCain has tried to distance himself from him.  It’s Bush’s lack of nuance, his lack of respect for intellectualism that has caused him all of his troubles.  Bush was warned by many bright and talented people not to invade Iraq but he refused to listen, instead, trusting his instincts, he decided on a course of action that now, most Americans agree was foolish but don’t try telling that to either McCain or Gerson.

For Obama’s supporters, McCain’s answers were seen as “canned,” as quick sound bites designed to score points rather than illuminate.  Obama was seen as “thoughtful” and as even Gerson admits, “Obama was fluent, cool and cerebral,” again, apparently undesirable qualities in a president.  In Sally Quinn’s column, she summed up Obama’s performance like this,

That kind of nuance is hard to understand sometimes — it’s unclear, complicated. Obama’s world can be scarier. It’s multicultural. It’s realistic (yes, there is evil on the streets of this country as well as in other places, and a lot of evil has been perpetrated in the name of good). It’s honest. When does life begin? Only the antiabortionists are clear on that. For the majority of Americans (who are pro-choice), it is “above my pay grade,” in Obama’s words, where there is no hard and fast line to draw on what’s worth dying for, and where people of all faiths have to be respected.

I would rather live in McCain’s world than Obama’s. But I believe that we live in Obama’s world. (emphasis added)

And that’s what it’s really all about.  We all want to live in that fairy book world where good and evil are clearly defined, where all the answers are easy and unambiguous.  But wishing doesn’t make it so.  Our world is complex, our actions often have unanticipated consequences, and it’s not always easy to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys.  And it’s in this world where we need the best and the brightest to lead the way.  The ones who understand the nuance, who can distinguish between the shades of gray, will be the ones providing the answers we seek in this dangerous and confusing world.

I think once again the “Know Nothings” are running the asylum in the Republican camp and MUST constantly reframe the vast (and embarrassing) intellectual (and “age” and “hipness” and “modern”) contrast between the candidates as something unattractive.

I’m still shaking my head that the R’s have McCain as a candidate in the first place. It’s insane. The only conclusion I can draw is that he is really just a figurehead and they have to get *someone* in there with an “R” behind his name so that they can protect the status quo and have at least another four years to bury the bodies, burn the evidence and hide the money.

Meanwhile, I think the greatest form of dissent would be to continually contrast, in a realistic way, the differences between candidates – and get past this FunHouse full of mirrors.

Those writers/bloggers with an audience need to remind everyone how stupid McCain is (and how stupid Dubya is), and how anti-intellectualism has the potential to destroy our nation, and not for the first time.

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