To some, this story has always seemed like a warning to the United States. In 1972, American sociologist Daniel Bell cited it and predicted, with amazing prescience, the rise of an anti-elite-education populism. Bell got one thing wrong, however: He thought the coming attack on universities would take the form of enforced quotas and lowered standards. In fact, American universities staved off that particular populist wave in the 1970s by expanding their admissions to include women and minorities while keeping standards high.
The result of that expansion is now with us: Barack Obama, brought up by a single mother, graduate of Columbia and Harvard Law School, is now president. Michelle Obama, daughter of a black municipal employee, graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, is now first lady. They brought with them to Washington dozens more people, also from modest backgrounds, mostly without inherited wealth, who have entered high government office thanks in part to their education. Not that Washington wasn’t stuffed with such people already. Think of Clarence Thomas, son of a domestic servant and a farm worker, graduate of Yale Law School, and Supreme Court justice.
Attached to every point Applebaum makes are suckerfish issues about elitism, who is getting what they deserve. Cultural points of view which differ according to the political alignment of the speaker and who is under discussion. Sarah Palin is from a relatively modest background and is a college graduate – she is one of us so it’s claimed. President Obama from an even more modest background – achieves graduation, law degree, place on law review and teaches in his area of expertise – he is accused of being an elitist. A common definition of elitism is someone who thinks they know better what is best for everyone else. The problem with that definition is it is true of everyone. Palin thinks she knows what is best for everyone – you can read her FaceBook page for all her prescriptions for what ails you. President Obama thinks his policies bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people. All the conservatives on the Supreme Court are Ivy League graduates – bona fide members of what the Right calls the “eastern elite” but the Right never refers to them as elites. While the more moderate members of the court as elites. This Orwellian attack on a word and its meaning has resulted in the coveted dog whistle effect. When a conservative speaks the word elitist, right-winger ears perk up. The coded language forming a bond of the tribalism subculture of conservatism. George W. Bush went to his first NASCAR event during the 2004 election cycle. Conservatives pointed to proof of Bush’s one of us common folk status. Then cheered by a shrill chorus of the conservative media. Bush, who attended elite prep schools, Yale and Harvard was never seen at another NASCAR event. Or a tractor pull or wrestling mania event. Which only means he is not truly comfortable in those settings and has no real interests in them. His one time appearance a bit of public manipulation. Which is fine with me – it is incumbent on the public to beware of packaged products which are poorly made and have little substance. Bush burned went on to burn the nation in every which way from a trumped up war to letting Wall St run wild. I can’t say the American public deserved what they got because quite a few Americans were smart enough to know better – the elitists I suppose.
Applebaum might be right in thew whole about upward mobility and resentment – it sure rings true for some people anyway. Where she might be off is about the trajectory of meritocracy and it’s premature death by the resentful. Those vaulted institutions which are supposedly conveying the merit and credential-ism are still taking in more legacy candidates and the wealthy than those such as the Obamas. That’s not just my opinion, it’s Harvards.
At highly selective institutions like those in the Ivy League, the statistics are even worse. At the 146 most competitive and selective institutions, just 3 percent of students come from families whose incomes are in the lowest 25 percent, compared with 74 percent from families in the top quarter.
I agree with a Harvard spokesperson at the link that stats like this are not all the Ivy Leagues fault. Many students in poor areas either do not know Harvard wants a diverse student body – so much so you could get a free ride if your grades and tests are good enough. It is also true that many students do not try for Princeton or Brown because they lack the confidence to even try. I wish we did not have such a fixation on those ten schools. For better or worse they have developed a mythical status as gateways to money and power. A phenomenon confirmed by many powerful public figures and wealthy business leaders. Public universities have as much academic rigor in most cases and cost less, but they lack the branding.
“On this conception of the philosophical enterprise, the vagueness of ordinary usage is not a problem to be eliminated but rather the source of linguistic riches. It is misleading even to attempt to fix the meaning of particular expressions by linking them referentially to things in the world. The meaning of a word or phrase or proposition is nothing other than the set of (informal) rules governing the use of the expression in actual life.
Like the rules of a game, Wittgenstein argued, these rules for the use of ordinary language are neither right nor wrong, neither true nor false: they are merely useful for the particular applications in which we apply them. The members of any community—cost accountants, college students, or rap musicians, for example—develop ways of speaking that serve their needs as a group, and these constitute the language-game they employ.”
In a bizarre press conference Monday, Alaska GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller announced he will no longer answer questions about his past and blamed the media for focusing on personal attacks instead of the issues.
“We’ve drawn a line in the sand. You can ask me about background, you can ask about personal issues — I’m not going to answer. I’m not,” he said, continuing:
This is about the issues. This is not about continuing the personal attacks, it’s not about continuing the diversions based in illegal acts. This is about moving the state forward. And that’s our commitment.
There have been a steady stream of revelations in recent weeks about Miller, who was a little-known attorney until he beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in an upset in the August primary (she is now running as a write-in candidate). It has emerged in recent weeks that Miller took advantage of various programs that he thinks are unconstitutional or should be gutted, like Medicaid and federal farm subsidies.
Joe did get a recommendation of sorts from an ex-employer. When asked about Miller’s leaving the big Anchorage law firm the spokesperson said no one exactly begged Miller to stay. Miller is part of a trend by tea stain luminaries such as Palin, Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell not to answer questions from anyone outside the right-wing circle jerk circle of trust.