The Best and the Brightest

The Best and the Brightest is the title of David Halberstam's 1972 book chronicling the Kennedy administration. I keep it on my shelf and look at it whenever my ego inflates and I feel smart.  The title is satirical. Characters like McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, and Robert McNamara, who composed JFK's cabinet and staff, were part of the intellectual elite.  They were Ivy-League graduates, PhDs, Rhodes Scholars, and successful CEOs. 

Yet these "brilliant" men were the same men who conjured Vietnam and the disastrous military strategies (see Rolling Thunder).  These "brightest" were also unable to pass any significant legislation in Congress.  JFK, before his assassination, had utterly failed in advancing his platform. The political tactics of his "best" strategists failed.  It would be, instead, Lyndon Johnson, considered a backwater beatnik by the men of Camelot, who would succeed in passing Civil Rights, Medicare and Medicaid.  The moral of the story?  Outward signs of intelligence do not necessarily make someone smart and effective. "For the wisdom of this world is foolish in God's sight" (James 3:15). 

"Perceiving the apostles to be uneducated, ordinary men, the leaders, elders, and scribes were amazed and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus" (Acts 4:13).  The twelve apostles were not the best and brightest.  The Sanhedrin—the intellectual elite—see these fishermen of Galilee as fools, which is why they are amazed at their effectiveness.  Peter and John and the others had not studied the Torah under a famous rabbi.  They had no impressive curriculum vitae.  We could put the Blessed Mother in the same boat.  Mary was a simple peasant girl from Nazareth, the backwater of backwaters.  And yet the apostles and Mary, who were together in Jerusalem after the Ascension (cf. Acts 1:4), were incredibly influential. 

 

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