Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Unclean Slate

I read something yesterday that got me pretty mad. Not Attend-A-Sarah-Palin-Rally-And-Call- For-The-Death-of-a-Presidential-Candidate mad, but mad enough that I wanted to write an angry email to the person responsible. Unfortunately, Slate, which published the piece, didn't provide the email address for Rachael Larimore, who wrote the piece. I searched high and low for that address, and while gross incompetence is always a possibility when we're discussing me, I eventually came to the conclusion that it wasn't available on the site.

I fumed for awhile. Damnit, I had all this righteous rage to vent and no way to do it. I resigned myself to the reality that in this situation, I'd simply have to let it go.

And then I remembered: I have a blog and a captive audience of several people. I never have to let anything go! Plus, I didn't have anything else to write about today, who knows what would turn up Friday and the Gators have an off-day Saturday. I didn't want to run silent here for three or four straight days. So this is a perfect opportunity to rage like noble Achilles. If noble Achilles had a laptop. And a blog. And no life.

What angered me about the linked post on Slate's XX Blog was not Larimore's claim that Obama's words to Joe Wurzelbacher (aka "The Plumber") "sent chills down her spine," though I would argue that if Obama's statement really had that effect on her she needs to join Cindy McCain in some spinal insulation shopping. No, what riled me up was this paean to the nobility of Joe Wurzelbacher:

Can we look at a larger point about Joe the Plumber? Joe Wurzelbacher is, after all, a plumber. He didn't have his well-off parents send him off for his MBA or a law-school degree so he could get a cushy 9-to-5 job with an office and an assistant and good benefits. He's not a 25-year-old starting an Internet company with someone else's venture capital. He's gotten where he is today by unclogging our smelly toilets and fixing the pipes we probably should have had looked at before they burst.

It should be noted that the post you're reading has been building for awhile. I've been growing increasingly agitated with Larimore's constant deification of the Average American (TM) at the expense of Elitist Intellectuals (TM). It's usually in the context of defending the folksy, down-home, heartland appeal of Sarah "Community Organizing Is A Pathetic Endeavor Worthy Only of Scorn And Derision" Palin. (The heartland I live in honors those who work for the betterment of their community, but whatever)

Here, it's in the context of glorifying Wurzelbacher and his fear of Obama's tax plan. I don't want to talk about Joe The Non-Licensed Plumber or the details of Obama's proposals. Instead, I'd like to register my disgust at Larimore's greater point.

Let me be very clear: there is nothing inherently noble about working with your hands. Cleaning a toilet is not prima facie evidence of moral character. It's not a fast track to beatification. Nor, of course, is it evidence of a life gone askew or intellectual inferiority.

But we have this kind of Cult of the Working Man established in our political dialogue. We have this idea that everyone with a blue collar is more American than everyone with a white collar, that those who work on the side of the road or in strange bathrooms are simply better than those who work in offices or libraries.

We have serious issues in this country with wealth disparity. Politicians should address that. But we do not glorify the plumber by denigrating the graduate student. We can not turn a blue collar into a halo by besmirching a white collar. There is no courage in mocking those with MBAs, no nobility in perpetuating the idea that education is a straight road to moral turpitude.

And Larimore's rhetoric isn't just unhelpful, it's actively hurtful. There's an education crisis in this country, and while that has many causes, one of those is student apathy. And while that has many causes, I am convinced part of it derives from the national pastime of assaulting book learning.

In the middle of this national education crisis, we have a pundit class that uses the adjective "professorial" as a slur directed at Barack Obama. We have politicians who continually tar their opponents with the dreaded "Ivy League" appellation. We have an education crisis and we're telling our children that they shouldn't strive to attend our best colleges, shouldn't strive to achieve advanced degrees, shouldn't strive for a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity.

A character in Caddyshack famously said, "The world needs ditch diggers too." It's true; society doesn't function without plumbers, garbage men and cable guys. But the world needs guys in suits too, it needs guys who went to school for eight years to get that master's degree in business administration or accounting or Eastern European Zoological History. Rhetoric like that coming from Larimore (who, by the way, has a degree in journalism from Ohio University and has contributed to The New York Times) only serves to hurt the country.

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