The brightest and best

Published October 20, 2022

By Lib Campbell

There was a day when a good education was a goal. A good education was touted as a necessary step in getting a good job. The aspiration of being brightest and best was a pretty common sentiment in North Carolina and in America, the shining city on a hill. In America, leaders like J.A Campbell, founding president of Campbell University said, “School is the greatest opportunity in the world. Here students…become educated men and women, become leaders, but most of all it is their chance to improve themselves, to open the door to a new world.” Where along the way did we lose that vision?

While I know that everybody did not have the advantages I might have had, I always hoped that anything I learned along the way might help raise the bar for everyone around. Education prepared me with knowledge of history and science, music and literature to make good decisions at the voting box and good decisions in every other aspect of my life. I always heard it said, “a rising tide raises all boats,” and I guess I believed that was true.

So why now are the educated a criticized elite? What is the disdain? And why are so many of our legislators and congressmen, many of whom are Ivy League educated, twisting themselves to appeal to what they call “the base”?

Describing a group of voters as “the base” is not a particularly flattering term. It becomes pejorative when we define a voting block as the lowest common denominator. In a way, highly educated politicians appealing to their “base” could be seen as pandering and even worse, manipulating a mass of people who might already have distrust and rightful grievance at the social issues in their lives that are not addressed. Instead of using education as an instrument of problem solving, it is used as a pathway to power, no matter what the cost.

Stewart Rhodes’ estranged wife echoes this in a recent interview. She talks about how Rhodes has a Yale Law degree. She says he knows enough about the law to protect himself and is persuasive enough to manipulate the other Oath Keepers to do the dirty work. Appealing to a lowest common denominator appears to be a goal in the politics of power today.

It is almost as if we are in a race to mediocrity.

I am not claiming to be the brightest, but I can say I have always worked to do my best throughout my life. I have worked to use the gifts, opportunities, and intellect I do have to do all the good I can do. I am thankful for the education I have. And I would never dumb down as an appeal to grab voters and power. I would never try to use people in such a way.

When I was in Divinity School I was introduced to a lot of new vocabulary. If I heard a word I did not know, I wrote it in my notebook. As my vocabulary grew, I would mark the words off the list. I knew them. I would tell those in my classes at the church, when I used one of those big words, “My husband paid $40,000 for me to know this word. I am giving it to you for free.” Our educations pass through us to those with whom we interact. We don’t just bottle it up or leave it on a shelf.

Reading the bios of congressmen, senators, legislators and candidates reveals much about what they likely have learned in their studies at Yale, Princeton, Stanford and the like. It is shocking then to see so many selling themselves out to cultivate such a base. Would we not be better served if we all lived into the fullness of what we have learned? Would the world not be better off if the brightest and the best lived as stewards of their knowledge, working to find solutions to big problems on the horizon we all share?

Why would we glorify willful ignorance? And why on earth would we elect people who have nearly sold their souls appealing to a base that is apparently OK with going low. Fomenting anger and hate are not the brightest and best way to lead anything. Another slippery slope, I’m afraid.

I have lived more than three-quarters of a century. Never have I seen such an abandonment of truth, of character, and education. In America, which has been the hope of the world for over about three centuries and in North Carolina, where we have proudly claimed to be a place “where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great,” why would we choose to aim for a lowest denominator, embracing conspiracy and misinformation? Who are we anymore?

Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist Pastor, retreat leader and columnist who blogs at You may contact her at