Last week, I took a survey from the Harvard Digital Lab for Social Sciences. The questions were about how I viewed politicians. I didn’t rate them very high and didn’t think that just because they were politicians, they had a better grasp on a lot of the issues than the average person. (This weekend, I am watching the government shutdown and quite frankly, it is confirming my opinions.) At the end of the survey, possibly because of my answers, the last question was, “Are you a Populist?”
I didn’t really know how to answer that last question. I have never thought of myself as a Populist, but what is the antithesis of a Populist? An Elitist? In order to better formulate my opinion, I checked Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary and looked up the two definitions: “Populist – a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people,” “Elitist – one whose attitudes and beliefs are biased in favor of a socially elite class of people.” There was also a quote by Michael Barone under the Elitist definition that stated that a Populist “believes that people can make better decisions for themselves than Elites can.”
Certainly, by those definitions, I am a Populist. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate a person’s education and won’t seek out a doctor or other educated professional to help me when I have a need. I don’t look to my neighbor for help when my appendix is hurting, and I don’t ask my girlfriends questions about my taxes. I do look to those with more learning and experience than I have when I am dealing with a subject that I don’t fully understand.
Back to the subject of politicians, I certainly do not believe they are an elite group of people. They may have more education and experience than I do at their chosen profession, but I don’t view them as any better than anyone else. For the most part, from what I have observed, their main focus is on becoming re-elected. Solving the problems of our society seem to come in a poor second to playing to whichever base they need for their next run for office. Whether a politician is educated at Harvard or a state-run school, I believe the greatest quality we need from them is integrity. I want a politician to be concerned about the needs of the people and have the integrity to work for the good of the people he serves. I want him or her to work with the other party, if needed, in order to achieve the best outcome for whatever problem they are dealing with.
I know our founding fathers did not trust the common people of their time to make good decisions for themselves. They were better educated than the average citizen, many of whom could not read or write. They were the Elites of their day. In today’s society, the average citizen can read and write and has the opportunity to enhance his education as much as he or she wants to. So I have come to a conclusion about my question, “Populist or Elitist?” I am a Populist. What about you?