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Save us from the Babbitts of the world

Timothy May

“May God prevent us from becoming ‘right-thinking men’ – that is to say, men who agree perfectly with their own police.” – Thomas Merton


Among the various claims advanced by young Aaron Klein, Sierra College Trustee for Nevada County, one of the most audacious, but certainly not the most astute, is that certain “folks” do not care for his agenda because, “they don’t like being challenged to achieve greatness.”

In a recent guest column, our newly elected college trustee identifies himself as a 26-year-old software salesman with four years of experience running a business of 10 people. He offers no explanation, simply legal cover, for his attacks upon ex-president Kevin Ramirez. Young Klein offers no apology for the utter turmoil that he has caused the faculty, staff, administrators and students of Sierra College. And Mr. Klein makes no mention of the $45,000 contributed by Rocklin power brokers to bankroll his election.

“I know and am confident beyond a shadow of a doubt,” writes Klein, “that every single action I have taken as a Sierra College trustee has absolutely been in the best interests of Sierra College, its students, and the taxpayers.”

After reciting a simplistic shopping list of his “goals” for the college, (training people for jobs, hiring good teachers, investing in growth, attracting high school grads, etc.) young Klein ends his editorial with a slick shift to a high key. “With your help,” he writes, “we will make Sierra College the best community college in America.”

If Aaron Klein were running for student body president, this self-promoting stump speech of his could be acceptable, clichés and all. Yet Klein is not running for student office. Younger and less experienced than the average community college student, Mr. Klein has unfortunately been entrusted with the shared management of a multi-million dollar budget. He has been handed a trustee position-one purchased by Placer County partisans-and now his actions are adversely affecting the professional lives of thousands and the collegiate dreams of still thousands more.

“Nothing in the world,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, “is more dangerous than sincere ignorance.”

After reading Klein’s column, I believe this young man is probably sincere. As a college English professor, I come into contact with hundreds of young minds each year. Some are brilliant and imaginative. Others evoke the concern expressed by Dr. King. But because they are young and willing to learn, we work with and challenge such young people. These same qualities in an elected public official, however, are simply unacceptable.

Klein says he is absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, right.

“We all feel we are right,” Igor Stravinsky once said. “But we felt the same way twenty years ago and today we know we weren’t always right.”

Listen to that voice-it is the voice of wisdom, the voice of maturity. Measure such a voice against that of young Mr. Klein, who insists he is absolutely, positively right. Which is to say Klein agrees perfectly with himself. Never mind the collective wisdom of the Sierra College faculty, staff, administrators and students. Never mind the thousands of Nevada County voters who were fed vague campaign slogans in November, and simply official silence ever since – even after Klein’s ugly political hit job was completed. “Now it’s time to move on and look to the future,” says Klein, “and I’m very excited.”

The dominant theme of Klein’s essay and his actions is babbittry – the term used to describe the narrow, self-righteous, “go-getting” outlook represented in Sinclair Lewis’ 1922 novel, “Babbitt.” Lewis knew a certain American character quite well: George Babbitt is a young, self-important salesman whose economic, political, and even moral beliefs are summed up by his favorite expression, “What we need around here is a good business administration.” Let’s handle things with zip and zowie! Let’s together be the very best in America!

May god save us from the right-thinking Babbitts of this world. Let them run for office in Babbitt County, where their “go-getting” talk and ethical complacency should feel right at home.


Timothy May lives in Rough and Ready and has taught English at Yuba College for the last 28 years.


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