Skip to comments.Opinion: The Right Kind of Elitism
Posted on 01/09/2011 7:18:18 AM PST by dervish
It's healthy, even natural, for Americans to feel populist resentment against elites that base their status on inherited wealth and family connections. But it's toxic, misguided and profoundly stupid to focus public hostility on leaders who achieved their positions through education, diligence and ability.
Recent sniping between Sarah Palin and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer highlights the crucial distinction between rebellious attitudes that attack unfairly arrogated power and privilege and a trendy neo-populism that attacks brains.
When Krauthammer dared to suggest that the former Alaska governor looked less than "presidential" while shooting caribou with Kate Gosselin on her hit TLC reality show, Palin told Bill O'Reilly, "Well, bless his heart, he's probably used to those in the political beltway who perhaps aren't out there workin', but they're talkin' and they're meeting people, and they're out there doin' their 'strategery,' whereas I'm workin' and havin' a great time doin' it."
The irony in this attack involves the fact that Palin is currently "workin'" in precisely the same way Charles Krauthammer does -- by writing and making media appearances. The key difference is that Palin earns many times Krauthammer's income by focusing on her own ebullient personality rather than policy and ideas.
Yes, Krauthammer would have to plead guilty to what Palin would deride as "high-falutin'" educational credentials: He studied at Oxford and earned his M.D. at Harvard Medical School. But in what sense does this paraplegic, Canadian-raised son of struggling Eastern European immigrants qualify as a representative of some perceived establishment that excludes a former governor, vice presidential nominee, certified TV star and No. 1 best-selling author?
Only in terms intellectuality, not wealth or influence or celebrity status, could a Krauthammer qualify as more "elitist" than a Palin.
Former White House speechwriter David Frum (another Canadian-born U.S. citizen with Ivy League credentials) makes the interesting point that "American populism has almost always concentrated its anger against the educated rather than the wealthy." He classifies contemporary politics as "a class struggle between those with more education than money against those with more money than education."
Unfortunately, this sort of battle over brains undermines the most potent and valuable thrust of traditional populism: the opposition to an arrogant, hereditary establishment that closes off access to money and power to even the most gifted products of ordinary American families.
Consider the often-expressed (and misguided) discomfort over the fact that every one of the nine current justices of the U.S. Supreme Court holds degrees from either Yale or Harvard. Far from indicating the domination of our most powerful legal institution by members of an American aristocracy, the background of the reigning justices demonstrates the effective operation of an educational meritocracy.
Not one of the jurists on the high court (with its six Catholics and three Jews) arose from the old-line, blue-blood, WASP establishment. Two of them, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, grew up in abject poverty, while most of the others came from modest circumstances and immigrant families. They attended Yale and Harvard not through family connections (a charge that could accurately be lodged against presidential candidates Al Gore, John Kerry and George W. Bush) but due to academic excellence and scholarship aid.
No one can question the fact that the nation's most prestigious educational institutions opened up to "unconventional" but able applicants in the '60s and '70s (prominently including Barack Obama) and reserved far fewer spaces to legacy students and prep school products. This means that populist rage focused on Ivy League degrees now amounts to resentment of educational achievement, or even intelligence, rather than inherited privilege.
In that context, Palin's well-advertised battle against various elites has more to do with her carefully constructed and distinctive "Going Rogue" persona than with her position as a self-anointed outsider, her religious faith or educational background.
No one, for instance, questions the presidential qualifications of Mike Huckabee -- despite the fact that the former pastor's evangelical Christian commitment is every bit as fervently outspoken as Palin's, and his undergraduate degree (from Ouachita Bible University) is no more prestigious than Palin's communications B.A. from the University of Idaho.
Huckabee, however, served 10 years as governor of his state (and three prior years as lieutenant governor) and in his eight books, weekly TV broadcasts on Fox News and innumerable public debates he demonstrates a mastery of public issues and political ideas that impresses even those who disagree with him.
Huckabee's example indicates that the populist instinct is correct in disregarding the idea that a Yale or Harvard education is a necessary prerequisite for national leadership, but it goes wrong if it suggests that blue chip academic credentials should count as a disqualification of any kind.
Most Americans can agree that elitism that favors well-born, powerfully connected individuals counts as hateful and undemocratic. But an elitism that favors those who are smart, capable and impressively trained is reasonable and, to some extent, inevitable.
(donning fire retardant suit now)
“leaders who achieved their positions through education, diligence and ability.”
Like who? Surely they aren’t referring to the post turtle in chief!
Medved is an ass.
“But an elitism that favors those who are smart, capable and impressively trained is reasonable and, to some extent, inevitable.”
I prefer leaders with a track record for getting done what I want to get done, and avoiding things that I loathe. Smarts, capability and training irrelevant to things are not of interest to me. Medved’s taste for “elitism” is part of the problem.
It seems not to have occured to Medved that many Ivy League grads now are as likley to be affirmative action beneficiaries as they are to be "smart, capable". He can't really be taken seriously when he writes this article and never mentions that.
And with the current state of this nation, and the widespread presence of Ivy Leaguers in every aspect of our government, media and financial institutions for decades, we'd probably be wise to start asking seriously whether the influence of those schools are a main source of the nation's problems.
Medved, like Krauthammer, is a former liberal democrat who just can’t completely make the switch.
Since the so-called anointed from Harvard and Yale have made the US go broke, and Socialism is again a failure, I contend they really aren’t that smart. They are just bitter clingers to policies of failure. Guess where they LEARNED this. Yep, it has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with brainwashing. These people live in a fantasy world of their own construct.
Folks, is that how you view the Tea Party movement?
Medved specifically states that it is not Ivy League education that qualifies one for office:
“No one, for instance, questions the presidential qualifications of Mike Huckabee — despite the fact that the former pastor’s evangelical Christian commitment is every bit as fervently outspoken as Palin’s, and his undergraduate degree (from Ouachita Bible University) is no more prestigious than Palin’s communications B.A. from the University of Idaho.
Huckabee, however, served 10 years as governor of his state (and three prior years as lieutenant governor) and in his eight books, weekly TV broadcasts on Fox News and innumerable public debates he demonstrates a mastery of public issues and political ideas that impresses even those who disagree with him.”
My husband and I recently redid our will. It sets up a small educational trust. We specifically and clearly stated that NONE of this money is to be used to fund any tuition or other expenses of attending an Ivy League or elite college or university.
When I meet someone who has attended an elite college, I do know **one** thing about that person. They were bookish teens.
Only in terms of expensive degrees on the wall would Krauthammer qualify as more "elitist" than...hm?...BENJAMIN FRANKLIN!
Whose wisdom would anyone with any sense respect more? Krauthammer or RONALD REAGAN
Medved is an idiot. He is upset because after all that bookish work as a pimply teen just to get accepted to an elite school, his prestigious degrees are losing value.
Medved is a fool. How he handled Obama's eligibility was proof enough of that.
TR after a hunt.
Cheney hunts (and hopefully does so safely now)
John Kerry claims to be a hunter
Harry Truman hunted and fished.
Ike hunted, as did many others.
So exactly why is it unpresidential when Sarah hunts and is filmed hunting?
If you don’t think Krauthmmer is an elitist, along with Medved, then there is something wrong here. I’m really tired of “our betters”, both left and right, telling us how to think.
The Palins aren’t elitists. Heck, I bought her dad and brother a beer once.
I look to results, not “education” or even “ambition” in the form of diligence. I have seen MANY highly educated people who are fools and charlatans. I have seen MANY people who are diligent in pursuing their own success at the expense of the general populace.
What a person, especially an elected person, DOES is what matters. Do they do things that help the country and the people succeed, and do they do things that advance individual liberty and prosperity.
Fancy titles, degrees, awards, etc. do not prove anything about a person’s ability to lead others.