Feb 272008

I like this. Our country is built on unresolvable contradictions, and the WSJ Best of the Web passes up an opportunity to be snarky about it to call attention to one of them.

You’re Fine, but Not That Fine
From Honolulu, the Associated Press reports on a little political kerfuffle that illustrates a paradox about America:

Sen. Daniel Inouye has apologized for suggesting that Sen. Barack Obama’s private high school in Hawaii was elitist.

Inouye said before his state’s Feb. 19 Democratic caucuses that voters know Obama was born in Hawaii and graduated from one of its high schools, “but he went to Punahou, and that was not a school for the impoverished.” . . .

The Democratic senator is backing Obama’s presidential rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Inouye apologized in a letter to the president of the Punahou School, according to Jennifer Sabas, his chief of staff. . . .

“It was just a misstatement,” Sabas said. “It was never the intent to disparage Punahou in any way. It is without a doubt one of the finest schools in our nation.”

If it is “one of the finest schools in our nation,” that’s pretty elite, isn’t it? But Inouye is apologizing for calling the school “elitist.” There is at least a tension here–and yet it is a tension that captures something great about America: We aspire to value the best, but not to devalue that which falls short, to recognize the elite without becoming elitist. It’s a logical contradiction, yet in a funny way it seems to work.