Among the many issues we focus on within the pages of this blog are the worthiness – or lack thereof – of the elites here in America and elsewhere in the Western world. It is our contention here at the Hayride that elite status must be maintained through merit and quality; if elites do not reflect the best values and traditions of a society then either they aren’t actually the elites or the society as a whole is in the process of rejecting its best values and traditions – with steep decline an inevitable result.
For at least 40 years, America’s elites – intellectual, cultural, academic, commercial, scientific and journalistic – have not only failed to reflect the best values and traditions of our society, but have actively put them under assault. The examples of this are legion; a few which easily come to mind are the head-scratching controversy over Carrie Prejean expressing the same support of legal preference for heterosexual marriage that Barack Obama does (at least publicly), the astonishing rarity of films in which American business is portrayed in anything other than a positive light or the refusal of our educators to present the United States as a beacon of freedom and morality rather than a racist, aggressive and unjust nation.
But while the elites – measured in a political sense largely by Ivy League degrees and curricula vitae replete with Washington public-sector and think-tank line items – have pursued a program of detaching themselves from traditional “flyover” America, the rest of the country has not, for the most part, followed suit.
This has made for an interesting dichotomy and a regular disconnect. A Sarah Palin meets with substantial political and commercial approval while being laughed at as an Alaskan rube and a joke by the likes of David Brooks. A Mel Gibson makes an unapologetic, antiquarian movie about the crucifixion on his own dime and amid the dismissal and jeering of the Hollywood elite the record profits tumble in. A movement of millions of ordinary Americans decried as racists, amateurs and morons by the East Coast mandarins now commands higher approval ratings than either major party headquartered inside the Beltway. And on and on.
The break between the elites and the public has grown largely as a result of three things. First, talk radio has empowered normal Americans to voice their opinions – and the proliferation of outlets within that medium has afforded talented individuals the opportunity to achieve fame, fortune and influence without the benefit of elite approval. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity have become major influences on American political culture, and none came from an Ivy League background or anything close to it.
Second, cable television has fractured the market and broken the stranglehold of the ABC/CBS/NBC oligopoly. Fox News, which caters unapologetically to Main Street America, dominates the cable news ratings and threatens the declining market share of the major networks. Americans, no longer wedded to the Walter Cronkite authoritarian media model of bygone days, often tune in to a Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart to get perspective on news while refusing the offerings of a corporate-appointed Katie Couric or George Stephanopoulous.
And finally, the internet. Where the New York Times and Washington Post used to inflict a dominant perspective upon the intellectual and political culture of the nation, that monopoly is broken forever. An entirely fresh culture has spring up on the web, where without any capital investment whatsoever a nobody with talent can break into the discussion and achieve influence and readership. Just as an example of how fast this can happen, I myself wrote a piece on this blog two weeks after it made its debut as a Blogger.com ugly duckling in April of last year and found myself shocked when it was linked from the front page of RealClearPolitics.com.
Obviously these trends haven’t escaped the notice of the self-described elites. The abovementioned Brooks, who describes himself as a conservative (though few if any of his alleged ideological compatriots agree), offers a rather snotty piece in the New York Times today on the subject. Brooks identifies – correctly – that the Tea Party movement holds the potential to dominate the just-dawned decade as a political force, and he also identifies – correctly – that one main thrust of the Tea Party movement is its unwillingness to be shepherded, dominated or defined by the doyens of the Old Guard. Brooks, of course, finds this to be a frightening and negative thing, signifying an arrogance and historical neglect endemic to the East Coast media clique which incenses regular Americans (and galvanizes the deep-seated hatred of the New York Times among the ordinary public which shows up in the paper’s failing circulation figures).
As a Brooks piece goes, today’s offering contains more insight than normal. But the attitude behind it set off one of the very anti-elite, anti-New York Times types at whom he and his kind look down their noses. Will Collier, an Atlanta-based blogger who helped bring the medium to life a dozen years ago and who writes on sports as often as politics, gives Brooks and his compatriots what-for in response to the grousing about the Tea Partiers:
There’s a subtle shift here; having pushed the concept of an intellectually superior “educated class” for most of the column, Brooks switches to “political class,” perhaps in an effort to distance himself (and we can have no doubt that Brooks considers himself and his beloved Obama the epitomes of the “educated class”) from the foibles of those grubby politicians. This hedge aside, there are a few points worth making about Brooks’ armchair sociology.
First, David, until you can explain–without consulting Google–say, Bernoulli’s theorem and how it relates to flight, don’t bother passing yourself and your like-minded NYDC pals off as the country’s sole “educated class.” Out here in the hinterlands, we’re well aware that you and your Ivy League buddies believe that you are the only actual educated people on the planet, but you ought to have learned somewhere along the way that belief in an idea does [not] turn that idea into reality. Asserting as much, to borrow a line from the late John Hughes, just makes you look like an ass.
What Brooks, with his touching faith in “pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise” doesn’t want to talk about, of course, is just how badly the Ivy League class has failed over the past couple of decades. All those rows of degrees from Harvard didn’t keep a pack of Brooksian elites–mostly members of the Democratic Party–from running Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac straight into the toilet, and taking the private economy with them. Hiring out of the Ivies also didn’t save Lehman Brothers or AIG from doing remarkably stupid things with other people’s money. And as for “professional expertise…” just what profession does the Obama cabinet posses expertise in, other than hardball politics?
This president and his government are not only largely inexperienced when it comes to the private sector or even practical knowledge of middle America, they tend to view both in outright contempt. Recall Obama’s famous “bitter clingers” speech and autobiographical aversion to “the suburbs,” or his wife’s admonitions against “joining corporate America.” One with an overweening faith in “pragmatic federal leaders” probably hasn’t been paying much attention to Ivy-accredited politicians like alleged geniuses (and TARP/Fannie Mae culprits) Barney Frank or Chris Dodd.
Brooks does actually stumble into a correct point by associating the current Washington crew with the word “pragmatic,” but he fails utterly to note the intended end of that pragmatism: extending their own power. Like their spiritual forefathers in the New Deal, the Obami quickly abandoned most of their ideological goals (although not the demagogic language of that ideology) when reality failed to comply with theory. In their place came the much more politically pragmatic mantra of “tax and tax, spend and spend, and elect and elect.” That’s what Obama’s trillions in “Monopoly money”–other people’s Monopoly money, of course–are all about.
It’s masterful stuff, and worth a read. Collier eviscerates Brooks and his kind, and in so doing demonstrates that an Ivy League degree and a silver-spooned mien are of little value in competition with those of actual talent and clarity of thought. It brings to mind a question – how much longer can self-described “elites” – the “educated class,” the “political class” – continue at odds with the rest of the country before their status erodes to the point of irrelevance?