They Can’t Help Themselves

No, I refer not to evangelicals who are going to praise and worship in worship or to Neo-Calvinists who are going to turn every square inch into an outpouring of grace. Instead, I have in mind the media elites who cannot quite get over how smart they are and who continue to notice that Donald Trump did not graduate from the Kennedy School of Government (nor did his supporters graduate from Harvaleton — HarvardYalePrinceton). The issue of that New Republic bemoaned the election’s results began by retreading a column that former editor, Franklin Foer, had written about the George W. Bush administration. (The Franklin Foer, by the way, who left the magazine when he thought it had lost its way.) Here is how the current editors introduced Foer’s 2001 editorial:

FOLLOWING BARACK OBAMA’S election in 2008, a diverse cadre of intellectuals flocked to Washington to serve in the new administration. Eight years later, those same liberal elites are reeling from the election of Donald Trump. He campaigned in direct opposition to the smarty-pants Ivy Leaguers who trod the halls of the White House during the Obama years.

This is part of what Foer himself in 2001 wrote:

Eight years ago, the Clinton administration ushered in what seemed like a social revolution. The Clintonites didn’t just bring an ideology to Washington; they brought a caste. Gone were Poppy’s crusty boardingschool WASPs. In their place was a new kind of elite: multicultural, aggressively brainy, confident they owed their success not to birth or blood but to talent alone. “Perhaps more than any in our history,” wrote The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, “Clinton’s is a government of smart people.” Or at least credentialed people. The White House staff alone boasted six Rhodes scholars. One-third of Clinton’s 518 earliest appointments had attended Harvard or Yale—or both. The president called his staff “the top ranks of a new generation.”

The Clintonites set out to solve America’s problems by thinking smarter thoughts than anyone before them. Almost immediately, the project went awry. They produced a health care plan that was thoroughly rational; it was also mind-numbingly complex, hopelessly bureaucratic, and the product of an undemocratic process. And it almost ruined Clinton’s first term. . . .

Not surprisingly, then, Bush has crafted an administration largely devoid of intellectuals. His staff contains no Rhodes scholars. Of his 14 Cabinet members, only two went to Ivy League colleges, and only one holds a Ph.D., Secretary of Education Rod Paige— and his doctorate is in physical education. The Protestant establishment that shaped W’s father is dead—there is not a single powerful American institution that remains exclusively in WASP hands.

Almost all the wonks who traveled to Austin to instruct Bush in policy have either been ignored in the transition or handed second-tier positions. As Newsweek reported, frustrated onservatives have created an acronym for the administration: NINA, for “No Intellectuals Need Apply.”

Well, aren’t you smart. But if you were really smart and had studied political theory just a smidgeon you might be aware that philosopher kings are not so great an idea, and that democracies don’t always select the smartest governors. A smart person might concede that running things combines a lot of different skill sets, not to mention dependence on providence (or good fortune for the less spiritual).

Heck, only a couple months before the election, New Republic ran a review of a book that argued in effect that only the educated should vote or run for office:

For Jason Brennan, a professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy at Georgetown, the answer lies in sorting Americans by their level of education. His book, Against Democracy, argues for the establishment of an epistocracy, or rule by the wise. Under his scheme, your race is irrelevant, as well as your gender, social class, ethnicity, or even party. If you are informed about politics, you get to vote. If you are not, too bad. “Epistocracy,” in his words, “means the rule of the knowledgeable. More precisely, a political regime is epistocratic to the extent that political power is formally distributed according to competence, skill, and the good faith to act.” . . .

Any suffrage-restricting regime will have to address the question of how we determine who gets to vote, and Brennan has an answer: Just as we test for who can drive, we ought to rely on exams to determine who can have the franchise. To this there is an obvious objection. Tests rarely conform perfectly to the quality they presume to measure. I can fail at geography but nonetheless have good political judgment, just as a political whiz kid who knows the names of every member of Congress could also lack social graces. Any scheme for limiting democracy contains biases. One of the advantages of extending suffrage as widely as possible is that you limit the biases to as few as necessary. . . .

Despite—or perhaps because of—his disdain for politics, Brennan is ignorant of how politics actually work. “In the United States,” he writes, “the Democratic Party has an incentive to make the exam easy, while the Republicans have an incentive to make the exam moderately hard, but not too hard.” He has clearly not been paying attention. In Donald Trump’s America, low-information voters cling to the Republicans, while Democrats are becoming the party of the informed. If you are a liberal, you might consider applauding a scheme to allow 02138 (Cambridge, Massachusetts) more power than 38944 (Leflore County, Mississippi). For Brennan, this is not a problem: His faith in an epistocracy is firm, and let the chips fall where they may, even if the wise turn out to be the most liberal. But it does seem problematic that a libertarian proposes a voting scheme that would give power to the least libertarian sections of the country. Follow Brennan’s advice, and the whole country will eventually become the People’s Republic of Cambridge—and that, I can tell you from personal experience, is no libertarian paradise. (Just try not sorting your garbage here.)

There’s a reason that absent-minded so often goes with professor.

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8 thoughts on “They Can’t Help Themselves

  1. Rod (quoting a piece in New Republic) provides more evidence of them not helping:

    Ensuring transgender Americans can use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identities isn’t some tertiary issue. It’s a vital anti-discrimination measure. And, for transgender Americans in the workplace, it’s very much about being treated equally as they earn a living.

    You wouldn’t have known this from Sanders’s answer. As always, he railed against the plutocrats, disparaging Democrats for joining with Republicans to deregulate Wall Street and pass free trade deals. “I think the American people understand that there’s something profoundly wrong in this country when you have a small number of billionaires that have so much power,” he said. He also trotted out stump-speech lines about tuition-free public colleges and higher minimum wages; with passing mentions of fighting climate change and reforming our immigration and criminal justice systems.

    What Sanders didn’t do was mention bathrooms—or transgender Americans—even once.

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  2. The fewer magistrate and clergy controlled inches, the more risk of revivalist conversions and secular absence from the sacramental means of grace. How can you now possibly communicate God’s commands to those outside the family and covenant in which the sovereign placed you?

    Tolerance of the instructed conscience is not the same as the chaos of liberty. Mediating voluntary associations are a mere cover for individualism.

    Will more debt trickle down?

    Machen–Tolerance, moreover, means not merely tolerance for that with which we are agreed but also tolerance for that to which we are most thoroughly opposed. A few years ago there was passed in New York the abominable Lusk Law requiring private teachers in any subjects whatever to obtain a state license. It was aimed, I believe, at the socialists, and primarily at the Rand School in New York City. Now certainly I have no sympathy with socialism. Because of its hostility to freedom, it seems to me to be just about the darkest thought that has ever entered the mind of man. But certainly such opposition to socialism did not temper in the slightest degree my opposition to that preposterous law. Tolerance, to me, does not mean merely tolerance for what I hold to be good, but also tolerance for what I hold to be abominably bad. (Selected Shorter Writings, 418)
    http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/01/trump-spells-end-of-growth-hindering-fiscal-austerity-top-economist-who-supported-clinton-says.html

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  3. When someone leads with “I’m an intellectual” I think back to Wile E Coyote greeting Bugs Bunny with “I’m a Soooooooper Geeeeeeeeeeenius.”

    Same results also.

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  4. Trump called our leaders “stupid” and said they made very bad decisions. Clearly they weren’t smart enough to gain back all the House and Senate seats they lost. Maybe they are a “different” kind of smart?

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