- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2008




Americans recently were introduced to Joe the Plumber, whose impromptu exchange with Barack Obama at a campaign stop became national news. Joe turned out not yet to be a plumber, but his chat with the candidate was revealing.

Mr. Obama looked at Joe and saw someone not making $250,000 per year, and thus unconcerned that Mr. Obama plans to raise taxes on the “rich.” But Joe sees himself as someone who someday might become rich enough to be taxed at a higher rate by a President Obama. And he does not want to see any newfound wealth confiscated. Joe thinks he pays enough already in taxes. The One knows better.

Much is made of Mr. Obama’s evident intelligence. Of his generation, he surely is among “the best and the brightest.” Yet of our seven finest presidents only one, Thomas Jefferson, could be called a first-class intellect. The other six - Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Truman and Reagan - are best described as what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called Franklin Roosevelt: a second-class intellect with a first-class temperament.

This is not coincidence, for first-class intellects are prone to what the ancient Greeks called hubris - “presumption of the gods.” Exemplifying this mindset is Barack Obama’s exclamation, upon clinching his party’s nomination: “This is the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Mr. Obama’s clarion call brings to mind Al Gore urging lawmakers to join him in saving the planet. The Oracle of Climate Change said those who did so would become their generation’s “300,” a reference to the hit movie depicting Spartan valor.

Those of first-class intellect often hold two propositions: First, that they and their ilk are uniquely qualified to run the country; second, that they know what is best for the rest of us. They are not only found in government. Wall Street “Masters of the Universe” are cut from the same cloth. Such intellects are attracted to approaches that presume to solve intractable problems once and for all. They worship at the altar of pseudo-scientific computer models that presume to predict climate change a century into the future, or to assess the full range of financial risk for novel instruments of Byzantine complexity.

They view Joe the Plumber as someone to rule, not as someone who might join their ranks among The Elect. Thus Joe Biden saying the plumbers he knows are not like Joe, making good money. Thus Michelle Obama, who thinks “we have to fix our souls [which are] broken in this nation,” chastising voters and warning them:

“Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zone. … Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual - uninvolved, uninformed.”

The “best and the brightest” rarely make great leaders. They are too self-absorbed and self-righteous. They are not the leaders who made America what it is today. In addition to the presidents noted above, America was shaped by scientists like Thomas Edison, entrepreneurs like eBay’s Meg Whitman, artists like Duke Ellington. These leaders displayed talent leavened by humility. The latter brings a respect for what others can do. They aimed to enrich other people’s lives, not to rule over them.

John McCain and Sarah Palin celebrate Joe - and Josephine the Plumber. Mr. McCain’s real Spartan grit enduring five years of cruel captivity better prepares him for the White House than does a stint running the Harvard Law Review.

Mrs. Palin’s life as a small business owner, small town mayor and now state governor, better prepares her for the vice-presidency than Joe Biden’s six Senate terms that imbue in him the Beltway worldview. It better prepares her for the Oval Office than Barack Obama the community organizer, who promoted his pet causes on the taxpayer’s dime.

Let The Bard have the last word on The Elect: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.”

John C. Wohlstetter, a senior fellow at Discovery Institute, is the author of “The Long War Ahead and the Short War Upon Us,” and of the issues blog, “Letter From The Capitol.”



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