"An expert is anyone from out of town with a brief case."
That old bromide, capturing succinctly the error of automatically assuming smooth-talkers (and smooth-writers) "not from around here" often know more than local denizens, came to mind last week in reading The Times' Opinion page of July 3.
The placement on a single page of columns by nationally-syndicated writers alongside that of local lawyer Arturo Corso illustrated how often those from far away hold no greater insight, and sometimes less, than those around us daily.
National columnist Kathleen Parker compared the presidential qualifications of Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama. She contrasted then-Navy pilot McCain's courageous refusal of early release by his North Vietnamese captors, rather than leave his fellow Americans behind, with Obama's leaving his church in Chicago due to his minister's anti-American remarks.
Failing to recognize her own myopia in attempting to connect these utterly-disconnected, widely-divergent occurrences, both in circumstances and years, she concludes with the query of "wonder with whom one would rather share a foxhole."As if that foolish question adds anything to understanding who would be the better president.
That irrelevant question is no better than another heard in the past concerning presidential elections, "which candidate would you rather have a beer with?" As if your beer-drinking buddy, by that status alone, is qualified to be the leader of the free world.
And now we hear from former governor and ex-pro wrestler Jesse Ventura, who may run against two others for a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota, that "if you were in a dark alley, which one of the three of us would you want with you?"
Not only is such drivel all too often the childish basis for so much of our nation's presidential and other election conversation, but it reveals how uninspired, trivial and unhelpful much of national opinion-making is.
Jonah Goldberg's column on the same page suffered from the same poor vision. Goldberg facilely describes the invasion of Iraq as a "continuation of trends begun in the Persian Gulf War and extended by Clinton's (and Britain's) attacks in 1998."
Not to be too hard on Parker and Goldberg. We all have an off day from time to time. But one has to wonder.
There are legitimate differences of opinion concerning the war in Iraq, an ongoing 51/2-year war costing more than 4,100 American lives and more than half a trillion dollars. On the other hand, the first President Bush deployed American troops to kick invading Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, and President Clinton ordered airstrikes against Iraq without putting American boots on the ground and in harm's way. Does anyone unable to clearly distinguish and separate these events have any claim to wisdom, or even minimal qualifications to presume to illuminate public understanding at the national level?
In contrast with these ill-conceived columns was Corso's column on the same page. Displaying equal recognition of both Democratic President John Kennedy and Republican President Ronald Reagan as "revered" political leaders, Arturo reminded us on the eve of Independence Day that each generation of Americans must take up the brush to continue "painting the masterpiece that is America" which "will never be finished."
It is not a matter of party affiliation or ideology. Local columnists include various and sometimes sharply differing viewpoints, including Arturo, Joan King, Tack Cornelius, Renee Morris, Tom Nichols and others, along with The Times' staff columnists Harris Blackwood, Mitch Clarke and retired but still contributing Times columnists Johnny Vardeman and Ted Oglesby.
Each writes well, with thoughtful and incisive opinions, often from quite different vantage points, political (or apolitical) persuasions and party affiliations. While different readers will agree and disagree with this columnist or that, these local columnists, as well as writers of letters to the editor, illustrate the obvious fact that they think and write with skill and aplomb which equals and often exceeds that of national columnists and opinion-makers.
Experts live among us, with or without briefcases.
Wyc Orr is a Gainesville attorney and occasional columnist.