When you look over quotes about intellectuals from past U.S. Presidents (see Resources), you can see that some of them didn’t always live by the creed of solving problems with deep intellect. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, once called an intellectual a person who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows. Not long after, John F. Kennedy became President and brought a new era of the charismatic intellectual who arguably still took too long to say more than he knew and more than we still want to know.
As a connective string, you could say the same thing about President Barack Obama succeeding the more pragmatic George W. Bush.
But history usually repeats more often than every 100 years and things have changed dramatically, even since Obama took office just a year and a half after this writing. While Obama keeps struggling to solve some of the most complex issues in Presidential history, the desire of the populace to get definitive answers to those issues intensifies. With that come more explanations from other pundits supporting the President who place true understanding inside another bubble labeled riddle and enigma. That’s immediately picked up by the more practical pundit with political aspirations who answers it with a simple sound bite:
Just put your whole self in; put your whole self out. Put your whole self in and shake it all about.
Ecstatic applause from the masses rings out.
Even with the thought that Tea Partiers are a sure thing force for the 2012 Presidential election, you can see a more solid foundation building for a new breed of voters. It’s those who want simple answers to issues; issues that recently moved beyond complex and into the realms of mind-splitting riddles that only a Supreme Court justice could unravel. On the other hand, we may still have plenty of intellectual political candidates out there in wait, willing to take those issues on and attempt to convince the public they’re solvable.
Yet with the solid proof available that most Presidents are beleaguered in trying to solve some of the most pressing issues of the American people, the masses aren’t about to sit and listen to a protracted explanation of how a politician unravels the deep code to solvability.
For someone who still prefers to have a deeper core thought behind how to make America better, it may seem petrifying to think that a growing contingent want more simplistic solutions to health care and economic parity. And trying to dissect why that’s happening ultimately gets broken down to two simple forks in the road: Either the possibility of the American people being unable to think deeper as they once did or all being on the right track toward simplicity being the new and future blessing of our country.
If we have to find an answer to the value of simplicity in America, you can start with Da Vinci’s legendary and oft-quoted idea of “simplicity being the ultimate sophistication.” It’s easy to be flummoxed by that quote when most people understand sophistication as being subjective as my opinions in this article are. Then there was Albert Einstein’s reinvention on the subject of simplicity. He once said that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
The line of simple in describing the complex has possibly been definitively drawn by decree of the past tense voice of the world’s greatest scientist.
And yet when dealing with the spoken word and communication by the President, finding a way to reduce it to the bare essentials seems to be impossible without sounding too simplistic. It upholds a morose theory I’ve held that our past governmental leaders long ago intentionally made our most bureaucratic programs protracted to keep a status quo and impossible to break down to the simplest terms.
It also begs a retraction from the always pending thought that the American people are getting dumber and can’t learn the issues to keep up with our intellectual leaders and their declining adherents. While I noted that not every President was an intellectual in long ago decades, the perception says that they all have been. That’s perhaps based on the era before the end of WWII when things were perceptively simpler and more of a public willingness to delve head-first into issues.
Then you’re reminded of the long, long line of Presidents who strived to be like Abraham Lincoln and be a calm, intellectual force in the White House. After the exhausting scandals of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush arguably shifted the Presidency toward a different path during the 2000 campaign. More than a few asked how someone who reduced complex issues down to simple and appealing sound bites could possibly be taken seriously as President after Clinton.
Others decided it was just what they needed in an increasingly complex world and after an exasperatingly long-winded intellectual President who could explain the mundane in an hour.
Now that we have a new exception in President Obama, it also seems like the ultimate last-chance litmus test for the intellectual President. If it fails, it paints the intellectual as being completely unable to communicate to the ordinary citizen. It also means a possible sustainment of that philosophy through an entire generation. Enter the simple sound bite par excellence of Sarah Palin to start a new generation.
Whether you like or despise Palin or think she’s unelectable as President, a lot more are out there waiting who know the inside techniques to getting the public attention with simplicity. It’s also a larger picture of the sometimes smaller battle between the intellectual and the common person that’s dotted America in various institutions for years (including plots of famous TV sitcoms).
When the next voter goes into a voting booth, this won’t be a hidden reason for which candidate gets selected to public office. The alternate fork in the road has an alternate candidate wandering onto the main road who happens to be intellectual enough to be simple rather than simplistic enough to be simple.
Or there’s always the ultimate breakdown of simplicity to one concept for everything. In 20 years, prepare for a Presidential candidate to promise America “all the good stuff you need for a small fee.”