Professor Doran Hunter, Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Senior Fulbright Scholar was at IIUM recently where he delivered a series of talks centred around the issue of moral and good governance. During his last lecture, he was asked about his views on the necessity to have the best and the brightest to lead a moral and good government. His response was quite astounding.
He first made reference to the classic book The Best and The Brightest by David Halberstam who explained how the best and brightest people who advised President John F. Kennedy on Vietnam; all of them were wrong on how to best deal with the tensive situation. JFK in fact was the only one who was sensible enough to understand that war should be the absolute final resort, not a strategic move for any kind of psychological and moral victory. And the reason JFK was so adamantly against full military action was not because he was the best and brightest or even smarter than all his expert-advisers. He felt so strongly about it simply because he was once a soldier, thus knew very well what wars are all about especially the countless sufferings and hardships they bring.
Professor Hunter then drove home the point that the best and brighest are not always right. They may be the brightest as far as intelligence and academic achievements are concern, but without any real experience dealing with real-life situations, all their knowledge could be dangerously superficial. Which is why Americans have most often voted in presidents who were either former senators or former governors. These people may not necessarily be the brightest but they have the experience and the practical understanding on how to govern effectively and get things done. Hence the conclusion by Professor Hunter, he would never agree with the idea of using technology in genetic science to 'breed' an elite group of the best and brightest individuals to lead nations and governments.
Professor Hunter however seemed to have contradicted himself when responding to queries on his views on President Obama and his cabinet members. Although a Republican, Professor Hunter admits that he voted for Obama because he graduated from the best law school in America (at Harvard University) and has deep respect and understanding of the American Constitution having taught 'Constitutional Law' at several universities prior to his direct involvement in politics. Professor Hunter further exclaims that President Obama has managed to put together a remarkable cabinet whose members are among the best and brigthest in America.
These views may appear contradictory at a glance but once thought about further and deeper may not necessarily be so. President Obama's academic credentials were not the only reason why millions of Americans voted for him. His unique family and social background and experiences as a community organiser convinced many Americans that he truly understands the routine hardships and predicaments of millions of ordinary Americans. As the comedian Chris Rock once said in an interview during the campaign period back in 2008; "it's simple, vote for the guy with one house (Obama)... The guy with one house really cares about losing a house, because he is homeless. The other guy (John McCain) can lose five houses and still got a bunch of houses." (McCain and his wife were reported to own 12 houses)
Intelligence and academic credentials alone are not enough. But if they are blended with a deep sense understanding and experience of realities as viewed by the common people, that would be a powerful combination.
In my recent article to the Centre for Policy Initiatives, I expressed the need to find Malaysia's very own Manmohan Singh. I admit the article focussed more on the current Indian Prime Minister's impeccable academic and professional credentials, but those who are familiar with his personal background would know that Manmohan Singh also came from humble origins. His experience growing up in pre-partitioned India and as a Sikh in a Hindu-majority society I'm sure has helped him enormously while serving as prime minister.
Which begs us to ask, are only those from a lower social class whose families were poor and endured extreme hardship capable of becoming a compassionate and just political leader? Or from another point-of-view, are those with upper-class family background who grew up with wealth and comfort incapable to fully understand the plight and realities of the common people?
Malaysia's current Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is a living-ebodiment of this challenge. As a son of a former prime minister, how can he possibly understand the daily and routine hardship faced by many Malaysians? How can he possibly for example appreciates the struggles of a fisherman or a rubber-tapper who wakes up at 5 am every morning to work? Does he know what it feels like to struggle every month to pay various bills and expenses - water, electricity, food, children's expenses etc?
I'm sure he doesn't, which is why he appears most of the time like the feudal leader he is rather than a leader for the people. But that's not his fault, isn't it? I mean, should his father Tun Abdul Razak denied him the comfort of living in the Prime Minister's official residence and sent him to school in a far away kampung and let him live a wooden pondok just so that he knows what it feels like to be poor?
This is fast encroaching into issues in parenting vis-a-vis the challenges of modernity, which deserves a different posting, later...
I have read for many years about Tun Dr. Mahathir’s deep resentment and suspicion against Singapore. From his writings in The Early Years t...
(Berikut adalah artikel saya yang diterbitkan di laman web Centre for Policy Initiatives pada 12 Ogos 2010 di bawah tajuk ' Masalah kura...
Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali was born in Tus, Persia in 450 H (1058 AD). During his lifetime, he acquired one of the most distinguished pos...