Many Americans want as president someone who is exceptionally well informed about public policy, who surrounds himself with experts, who weights the evidence and then does what is best for the country. But few people are policy experts, so they often follow their hearts rather than their heads when deciding whom to vote for.
Stated in a discussion regarding Sarah Palin, The Economist brought forward a poignant issue plaguing both America and the Republican Party. The past election was rife with populism and anti-intellectualism- two closely related problems that only serve to degrade policy and hinder the growth of America.
From the support of Obama based on the rejection of Bush to the selection of Palin as running mate, the election was won and lost by the hearts, not the minds. This trend unfortunately still continues. The Republican Party, which made a disastrous choice with the populist, philistine Palin, continues to seep deeper into the brackish backwaters of anti-intellectualism.
The problems with populism and anti-intellectualism are twofold. First of all, it is quite easy for such leaders to appear narrow minded and possibly downright stupid. While, as The Economist article pointed out, some people may gain comfort in voting for someone ‘just like them’, the risks of turning everyone else off to such a politician are extremely high. Sarah Palin, for one, is either loved or hated. To those who champion her she is the ‘gal next door’; to those who ridicule her she is a redneck idiot. However, this polarizing persona is not a viable route for a party that aims to run a diverse country.
Secondly, and more importantly, populism and anti-intellectualism do much harm for developing strong policy. While many people may vote with their hearts, there are ways of communicating ideas and concepts that even non-policy experts can understand. At the end of the day, it is smart policy and smart discussion that will make our country better. This can only be achieved through continued discourse of ideas, by promoting thinking, and offering new ideas and solutions.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party is in a downward spiral away from the light and into a new dark age. Rather than learn the lesson of the Palin failure, the party elite has jumped on the narrow-minded bandwagon. Fresh ideas have so far been thoroughly rejected. While there are some shining lights, the Party as a whole is struggling to find its intellectual position.
The anti-intellectual, populist movement that has bound the Republican Party will prevent it from rising to its true conservative potential. It may appeal to a narrow, but vocal, minority in the hardcore base. Those that are well convicted in their ideology or simply too ignorant to think of voting for anyone but a Republican will be unlikely to leave the base. However, the rest of America – the ones that any party has to convince to win elections – will not be impressed.
In order to advance the party, the GOP must reevaluate its position. With Palin fortunately out of the way, concrete steps need to be taken to minimize the role outspoken sensationalist Republicans play as the de facto leaders of the party. While many of these talking-heads are right-on in policy they are ultimately entertainers that are performing for a specific audience. They are phenomenal at what they do, but are ill prepared to serve as national voices of the party. In their stead we need fresh ideas and new leaders to offer them. The Republican Party has the perfect opportunity to offer sound, well thought out ideas to America. As Obama continues to prove that he is unable to lead America and is devoid of a basic understanding of how so many things work the Republicans have the opportunity to steal the show. America has realized that being lead by its heart was foolish. It is calling for ideas. It is high time the GOP realizes this too.