Monday, October 6, 2008
Projecting an image of intellectual curiosity can benefit an aspiring politician. When such a person makes claims to being interested in the wider world, we should ask whether the person is serious--or simply striking a pose for the gullible.
Erik Paulsen takes considerable pride in his love of travel and interest in foreign countries and cultures. This is of particular interest now, since he's that odd public figure who shuns interaction with the opposition, no matter how polite. An enigma indeed, Paulsen: A person with zero curiosity concerning the battle of ideas within his chosen realm--the political world--claims great open-mindedness with regard to the wider world. Could it be so?
In the past week, two Erik Paulsen surrogates have spoken out on their candidate's behalf--with Paulsen staffers present--in an attempt to stir up provincialism and bigotry in the service of their candidate's electoral success.
So, deep down, is Paulsen someone who takes a sensible multiculturalism seriously? Or would it be more accurate to think of him as Chanhassen's Lester Maddox, as Ron Carey and Geoff Michel have inadvertently suggested?
Is the real Erik Paulsen a tolerant, multiculti St. Olaf global citizen--who only rarely employs bigotry, when his pollster tells him he's in trouble? Or is Paulsen's claim to internationalism an easily-dispelled hoax?
Fortunately, in this case we have good, hard evidence--in the candidate's own handwriting:
Last year, Erik Paulsen maintained a blog which he titled Paulsen's Travelogue. In it, he describes his travels in China and India in late 2007.
While traveling in the world's two most populous, ancient nations, Paulsen does not experience a single interesting thought:
When I saw China for the first time that year, my initial reaction was “Wow!” – there was so much development and activity evident everywhere.
He does not describe any interesting interaction with anyone, nor does he engage in any introspection of his own. He makes no attempt at probing beyond superficiality. At one point he encounters a group of the very poor--people who subsist on less than $2/day. Paulsen makes no attempt at interviewing any one such person or listening to such a person's story. (He identifies exclusively with yuppies.) Paulsen's travelogue includes many lists of economic statistics and gee whiz statements about the economic growth he observes. But Erik Paulsen expresses nothing but the most antiseptic 'curiosity.' He takes no interest in the day-to-day lives of the Chinese or Indians. He never asks anyone about their opinion of the United States, about their hopes, dreams, pastimes or troubles. It does not occur to Paulsen that average Indians or Chinese might feel ambivalence--perhaps even some dissatisfaction--concerning the current historical moment, or the global order. Paulsen accepts the most superficial drivel his blue-ribbon hosts spoon-feed him, and then he moves on. He does not establish a single personal connection during the entire sojourn.
Calling Erik Paulsen 'an internationalist' would be similar to mistaking Geoff Michel for Abraham Lincoln. It's bullshit.
Posted by Gavin Sullivan at 9:06 PM