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Outside the Matrix, Looking In

Quoting Obama's cringe-inducing mea culpas that occur on a regular basis in his administration, producing such classic face-palm lines such as “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects,” and we're “also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy,” not to mention horrible gaffes such as "profit and earnings ratios," Berkowitz writes:

It’s a cliché that democracy is messy and difficult; it’s a truism that politics demands the cutting of deals and the hammering out of trade-offs; it’s common knowledge that implementing public policy and conducting diplomacy involve unforeseen obstacles and intricate maneuvering that are hard to grasp from the outside.

Yet all this keeps catching Obama and his aides by surprise. Team Obama’s surprise, however, is really not all that surprising.

The president and the officials around him are the product of the same progressive version of higher education that simultaneously excises politics from the study of government and public policy while politicizing education. This higher education denigrates experience; exalts rational administration; reveres abstract moral reasoning; confidently counts on the mainstream press to play for the progressive political team; accords to words fabulous abilities to remake reality; and believes itself to speak for the people while haughtily despising their way of life.

The education President Obama received at Columbia University and Harvard Law School -- and delivered to others as a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School -- encourages the fantasy of a political world subject to almost limitless manipulation by clever and well-orchestrated images. This explains why the harsh exigencies and intractable forces of politics keep stunning the president, each new time as if it were the very first.

How might higher education be reformed to produce political leaders more familiar with how the world really works, more alive to the realities of social and political life and better able to discuss them honestly with the American people?

In 1909, Woodrow Wilson, the academician turned president who was the prototype for the current occupier of the White House in all sorts of ways, wrote, "The purpose of a university should be to make a son as unlike his father as possible." (Sadly, that advice didn't seem to apply when it came to separating Barry's worldview from his old man's.) Given the cossetted nature of the Boomers and succeeding generations, and their increasing disconnect from history, for those of us outside the Matrix and looking in, it seems obvious that there's only so much than be done to transform a man, before he becomes the Last Man.