Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The "Third Culture Kid" and the Impotence of the "Incurious"

In a short thread discussing the intellectual shortcomings and failings of liberal professor, civil rights activist, and frequent Bill Maher panelist Cornell West, Andrew Sullivan posts an email from a reader who writes the most cogent description of President Obama that I've ever read. Money quote:

The liberal label doesn’t fit Obama either. As you have pointed out, like Reagan or Thatcher, at his heart he is a pragmatist. Like a true TCK, he doesn’t romanticize any one culture or ideology. He understands that there is good or bad in everything. Yet another reason why he can also be called the anti-Bush who along with Cheney is trapped in a juvenile Manichaeism.

Look closely at Sarah Palin and George W. Bush. They are not just anti-intellectual but they are deeply provincial people [who] made sure not to expose themselves to much outside of their comfort zone. Sarah bounced from college to college unable to really fit in anywhere but Wasilla. Not even the Governor’s mansion felt like home to her so she left that too. Bush grew up in the upper crust East Coast and found his identity as a simple, “aw’ shucks” Texan who just knows what to do in his gut. He can be detached from the real world when necessary. TCK’s have no choice. They must engage the world.

I strongly identify with this description: as a Jew, who grew up on the largely Italian/Irish Catholic Jersey Shore; who moved as a teenager to the transplanted Okie world of Long Beach, CA; who attended college at the gigantic UCLA (University of Caucasians Lost among Asians); who has lived a large part of my adult life among Latinos and other immigrant populations; and who has stood side by side with people from all walks of life and in all socio-economic strata, I have had to engage fully with all these different levels of society in order to survive. It was not a choice for me to retreat into that with which I could easily identify, mostly because I identified with so little. Those in America who have spent the bulk of their lives among people just like them would easily identify more with a George Bush than a Barack Obama. That is, of course, unless that "George Bush" type were so egregiously daft that he couldn't even attract the similarly intellectually Incurious.

One reason, perhaps, why John McCain didn't prevail against Obama was because he could not be a representative choice of the Incurious. He was a soldier, to be sure, but he was a silver-spoon fed soldier who'd had no amount of difficulty in the armed forces until he succeeded in getting himself shot down. He lived his life as a millionaire. He did not legislate unequivocally (in fact, I think the "maverick" label hurt him because the Incurious typically identify with those who fall into lock-step behind their rigid, theocracy-infused ideology). Even with the Queen of the Incurious as his running mate, he couldn't overcome those shortcomings because he'd alienated the intellectually curious in his party who could not grant power to the one who represented the antithesis of intellect itself.

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