In his speech after the Iowa Caucuses last night, Mitt Romney argued that America needs to return to being a meritocracy. However, he astutely avoided using the word "meritocracy", instead he danced around it, saying "the right course for America is to remain a merit society". It was as if the word was too big, as if he was concerned that people might not understand him.
Romney's diction illuminated how he views the electorate. He sees them as uneducated, dumb, or simple. In any case, he believes Americans have a small vocabulary. This shouldn't be too surprising, politicians have been pandering to the lowest common denominator for years.
What's striking is the juxtaposition of what he's saying and how he's saying it. He is at once saying the best and brightest need to raise to the top, and that you're not it. He is, in essence, telling the electorate that his policies are going to work against their best interest.
It is easy to understand the draw of a meritocracy. Everyone thinks they're better than average and will raise to the top if society is based on merit. But, by definition, not everybody can be better than average. It is this disconnect, this misunderstanding of ourselves, that Mitt Romney is praying on.
A meritocracy sounds inherently fair, except when it isn't. A meritocracy is especially vicious to the common man when merit is measured by wealth and political connections. A meritocracy championed by those in power will use a measuring stick designed to keep power in the hands of the powerful. We've seen such a type of meritocracy in the banking industry over the past decade, and we've seen it in the history books time and time again. Instead of enabling social mobility through skill, education and hard work, such a system retards social mobility.
Mitt Romney is upholding the morality of a "merit society" to convince the electorate to support his campaign, while at the same time indicating that they won't benefit from such a society. He is able to do this because the electorate doesn't know itself and is therefore unable to win the fight between the people and the powerful.