I was thinking about this "meritocratic vs. democratic" notion this morning, and I think I hit upon a significant divide in how I'm processing things, and how many of my readers are processing things. The fact of the matter is simple---I am black. Most of the people who read this blog, in all likelihood, are white. Our history differs, and most importantly in this case, the make-up of our communities differ.
A guy wrote me yesterday arguing, as a lot of you have argued, that what Ross is really invoking is a "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" ideal. I wrote back asking why Barack Obama could not be a "Mr. Smith." He wrote back the following:
Because his talents are uncommon.
To put my point another way, if I said, "The average American voter simply can't understand complicated national issues." Your response would not be "You're wrong; Barack Obama understands complicated national issues." A response like that would make no sense--Obama is is a singularly talented individual; he's not just a representative American voter. In order to have faith in democracy, we have to believe that a majority of us, not simply the best of us, are capable of making the right call.
Obama doesn't work as Mr. Smith because Obama is not just your local boy scouts leader from next door. Obama is a brilliant man. His talent can't give me faith that my neighbor is making good decisions in the voting booth because Obama is much smarter than my neighbor.
That's why Obama's triumph isn't a victory for the "democratic ideal".
I think this is a pretty solid argument. But it makes assumptions about the American experience that some of us simply don't share. More to the point this "democratic ideal" is really a euphemism for white populism, and from a black perspective, even white tyranny.