Sunday, May 2, 2010


When I first lost my job and began writing opinion letters to my local paper, I sent the following in response to an opinion letter submitted by Dr. Van Til. To read the gentleman's letter, you can go to and search for Dr. Van Til by name and you will see his letter commentary of Jan 27 or thereabouts.

What bothered me most about Dr. Van Til's opinion was the derogatory way that he referred to the advanced education that our president possesses. My limited studies of history reminds me that when certain authoritarian or totalitarian regimes take power, they invariably target the intellectuals of the country as they attempt to eliminate all thought that might run contrary to their new found power. It is an odd combination of traits that we face today, having a president who is more educated than the average person, a thinker. Generally, the educated often disagree with a government's policies yet here we have someone who appears to be trying to think things through and make choices that are good for America, not just today but in the future as well. Still, lets be wary of people who want to discourage thinking and be wary that our president doesn't fall victim to the powers of money that seem to prevent policies that will benefit the everyday citizen.

Dr. Van Til begins his column by claiming that President Obama does not know the definition of middle class and in fact, is not middle class himself, so therefore he can not possibly understand the daily problems of middle class families. Dr. Van Til then makes a reference to an "Ivy League ring or bias" in the president's speeches thereby labelling President Obama as an elite who, again, can't possibly understand middle class woes.

Let's dig a bit further then. If we are to define the middle class in terms of income, we might consider the middle 60% of incomes, with 20% below and 20% above, to be middle class. If we accept that formula, then income between $30,000-$90,000 per year might be a good place to start as defining the middle class. So the President's claim that he would not raise the taxes of anyone earning over $250,000 not only covers the middle class, it even goes beyond it. Sounds like he is focusing on the right income group to me. Of course Dr. Van Til is correct, the president's salary does not qualify him for middle class. How many senators would qualify for that distinction? How many members of Congress? How about you, Dr. Van Til? Should I dismiss your opinion on just that issue?

As for elite, according to the desk dictionary I have at home, "elite" is defined in 2 main ways. First, the best or most skilled members of a particular group. I would think that most people would not only be proud to be considered elite in their particular profession or career but would strive to be so and encourage their children to be so as well. It sounds like a good thing to me yet Dr. Van Til seems to suggest something sinister in President Obama being elite in that he has an Ivy League education. I guess Dr. Van Til is using the 2nd definition of elite, the one wïth the negative connotation; "a small, privileged group". So, yes, I guess anyone with an Ivy League education could be considered a member of a small group, just as anyone with a doctorate (as I assume Dr. Van Til has) could be considered as elitist as well. I would think that Dr. Van Til worked hard to attain his doctorate and is proud of his accomplishments yet he would have us think that President Obama should not be equally as proud and that we should hold it against him somehow. This is especially interesting when we consider that our former President, George W. Bush attended Yale. I don't recall him being called elite. Do you really believe that he had any inkling of middle class problems as compared to President Obama who worked his way up from the middle class to achieve his "elite" status? I would certainly consider the former president much more a member of "a small, privileged group" than our current president.

If fact, now that I think of it, I would imagine that the citizens of our country, both before independence and afterwards, thought of the founding fathers as the elite of their time. They were the business leaders and land owners of the day. Most were highly educated, many in England. Do you really think that the middle class of the 1700's had the time and depth of thought to have developed the Declaration Of Independence? No, it took the "best and most skilled members" of that time to craft such an incredible document. I for one, want my elected officials to be elite in that they are the best people in terms of intelligence, forethought and sympathy for their fellow citizens. If we are electing people who are only elite in that they are richer and more privileged than ourselves, then perhaps we need to do a better job in the voting booth. They are not self-appointed as Dr. Van Til indicates as a reason for some of the current protests.

As for populism, I agree with Dr. Van Til that is defined in many strange ways. And while I did not research Dr. Van Til's examples of populist movements, I do know that governance by referendum or direct vote was not part of the founding fathers original plan. They knew that "popular" movements can make for poor policy which is why we have a representative form of government. They placed more faith that our legislatures would winnow out the good opinions from the bad and create just laws. It took dozens of years for women's suffrage to be granted. Was that a populist movement? If the men of the day had voted directly on granting the right would it have passed? When people took to the streets to protest the various wars that America has fought, were they populist? Did Dr. Van Til have as much sympathy for yesterday's anti-war protesters as he does for today's tea party demonstrators? I certainly applaud any citizen of this country who exercises their right to free speech and assembly, but let's not elevate the opinions of one populist movement over another just because we happen to agree with their position.

Strong, wise governance requires decisions that are sometimes unpopular. Clearly, the final word on the Obama Presidency is far from certain. He has not lived up to his word so far and it is right for all of us to express both our displeasure and support where it is warranted. But it has only been one year. Articles like Dr. Van Til's do nothing to move the conversation forward. It is easy to point fingers and disagree. How about some meaningful debate on how our elected officials can address the problems of the day.

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