Returning to Sam Harris's column, I love his point that Americans expect and want expertise in all walks of life -- just not the presidency. When it comes to doctors and lawyers and airplane pilots, people want experts in charge. Yet, somehow, when it comes to running the largest and most powerful nation on Earth, Americans want someone decidedly un-elite -- they want someone just like them.
Why is this? A lot of things explain this phenomena and, unfortunately, religion is partly to blame. Not religion itself, that is, but it's effect on American civil society. It seems to me that Americans vote for their president as if they are electing a religious leader. Think about it: Americans talk about whether or not the candidate can relate to them and whether or not the candidate shares their values. Those are the ways people judge their pastors, priests and Rabbis, but not how we should judge a technocrat. This helps explain why some people were upset over the Monica Lewinsky hoopla -- the sexual mores of the president are irrelevant to his job, but not so for a religious leader.
Who cares if Obama can relate to me? I'd vote for an alien-made robot if it could plan and run a burgeoning economy, implement universal healthcare, and end the War in Iraq. The news is making a big deal out of the fact that a huge percentage of Americans think Obama is Muslim. Isn't the bigger issue that people think his religion matters?