Friday, October 07, 2005

The Difference between So Many Conservative Ivy Leaguers And The Rest of The GOP

The Harriet Miers brouhaha has exposed an attitude that is very unbecoming many of the current conservative intellectual aristocracy: Their apparent failure to recognize how lucky they are to have had a chance at an Ivy League education. This seems to have lead to an elitism that is un-American, un-conservative, un-Republican, and flatly unattractive. (Not that I feel strongly about this, of course.)

[NOTE: Some of my favorite commenters have noted below that I may be painting with too broad a brush here. So, to clarify: In this post I am focused on the ruling conservative intelligentsia, such as the NRO Corner crowd, who I think are behaving like spoiled children in response to the Miers nomination. I am not criticizing good old conservative bloggers and other non-snobs like my much-appreciated commenters here.]

Appreciating One's Good Fortune And Privileges

The wailing and gnashing of teeth emanating from NRO's Corner and other places makes me wonder: Are some of our more famous right-wing Ivy League brethren just a little too impressed with their chances for learning and their resulting status? Do they have any feel for the lives of less fortunate people whose lives too a different path? Consider the life of Harriet Miers. As Beldar notes, referring to Ms. Miers:

Hypothetically, if your daddy has a stroke when you're a freshman in college, and you stay close to home so you can work a scholarship job while you're going to the best college and then the best law school in town, and then you clerk for a local federal district judge, and you go to work for one of the best firms in town (but that town isn't Washington or New York), and you go on to rack up a string of exceptional professional successes, does that nevertheless mean you're forever after a "third-rate" lawyer, forever after unworthy to be considered qualified for the Supreme Court, because you didn't go off to some Ivy League school?

I have a hunch there are many, many Americans who are bright overachievers and whose decisions about college and professional school were limited by similar life circumstances. I might be considered one of them, and I fear that many who had a more fortunate teen-age situation fail to appreciate that there, but for the grace of God, go they.

When I think back to my own high school days in the early 70's, it's clear to me that the kids I knew who went off to Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and that West Coast semi-equivalent, Stanford, were much favored by life. All of them had parents who started talking to them about the SAT when they were 11 years old (if not before). One of them had a father who was a graduate of the Harvard Business School and a friend of the director of admissions at Harvard. All had well-educated parents and most were well-off. Of course there were probably exceptions (although I can't remember any). I'm not saying they did not deserve admission, just that they were also very fortunate to get the life-long "ticket" they got by virtue of admission to an Ivy.

The Trap of Elitism And The Lure of Condescension

That's part of what's so disappointing about the Ramesh Ponnorus (Princeton), Ann Coulters (Cornell), Rich Lowrys (University of Virginia - who let him in here, anyway?), Charles Krauthammers (Harvard), David Frums (Yale and Harvard), Laura Ingrahams (Dartmouth) sorry, Laura!), and several others. Instead of reflecting the sort of humble gratitude that one might hope to see from them (or that one sees routinely from Ben Stein), this crowd seems to consider themselves fit to judge the "excellence" of those whom they find to be lesser intellectual lights. The shame of all this is that this circle of hard-core conservative elites is affiliated with the Republican Party. (These days Laura loves to say she's a conservative first, a Republican second, but that charming attitude is a story for another very long post, someday, when I am in the mood for a lot of venting.)

As Republicans who have been advanced greatly in life because of their affiliation with the party, these folks owe the rest of us better than the preening elitism that seems to have overcome them. Reading NRO's The Corner these days makes me feel like I am in a private dining room in New York City, listening while a bunch of Ivy League conservatives pass around the brandy, smoke cigars, and comment archly on G.W. Bush's betrayal of his class. (Kathryn Jean Lopez notes today that she "hasn't given up on" Bush just yet. What a relief.) It's a most unappealing kind of echo chamber.

What the Miers nomination seems to have provoked within this group is a feeling of deep personal betrayal by President Bush: The right-wing Ivies seem to believe that they developed a stable of conservative legal titans, fully equipped to fill slots on the Supreme Court. After they installed Bush as president, they presumably believe, it was his duty to do their bidding and nominate one of their anointed ones to the Court. When Bush failed to do so, they came unglued.

How else to explain the near-glee with which Laura Ingraham today related Bill Kristol's appearance on the Today Show, where he called for Bush to withdraw the Miers nomination, or the Krauthammer WaPo piece today calling for the same thing? Our conservative philosopher-kings believe they are entitled to the nominee they want, and they are bitterly disappointed that they were passed over.

In an interview aired on her show today, Laura Ingraham told Ed Gillespie that the problem is not elitism, it's that her group of conservatives have standards of "excellence" that Harriet Miers simply does not meet. Really? Did Clarence Thomas, Laura's favorite justice, meet those standards? I seem to recall that he was a federal appeals court judge for only a very short period, and that he testified during his confirmation hearings that he had never discussed Roe v. Wade with anyone. Nor was Thomas a writer of law review articles. Laura now criticizes Miers for those same deficiencies. "Standards of excellence" indeed.

"Main Street" Republicans

Why is all this so disappointing? To me, the GOP is the party of the little people, not these highly-educated, well-off folk. Like many (if not most) conservatives, I grew up in a "Main Street" Republican family. My father was one of the "little people." I never got near a country club until I was in high school and a state senator whose campaign I worked on took me to lunch there. The Main Street Republicans did not go to Yale. (They may have known people who went to Yale, but those people were spoken of in hushed tones.) In my world, the GOP was the place for regular folks like my dad, who loved America; voted for Willkie, Dewey, Eisenhower, Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan; paid his taxes, without the assistance of an accountant; distrusted large institutions like labor unions and IBM and the federal bureaucracy; got up at 5 a.m. every day, and car-pooled to work with his lunch box in hand.

The NRO Ivies seem quite removed from such folk. Malcolm Gladwell's recent New Yorker piece reflects on an aspect of this elitist attitude, arising from his experience as a Canadian coming to America:

Am I a better or more successful person for having been accepted at the University of Toronto, as opposed to my second or third choice? It strikes me as a curious question. In Ontario, there wasn'’t a strict hierarchy of colleges. There were several good ones and several better ones and a number of programs, —like computer science at the University of Waterloo, —that were world-class. But since all colleges were part of the same public system and tuition everywhere was the same (about a thousand dollars a year, in those days), and a B average in high school pretty much guaranteed you a spot in college, there wasn'’t a sense that anything great was at stake in the choice of which college we attended. The issue was whether we attended college, and —most important, —how seriously we took the experience once we got there. I thought everyone felt this way. You can imagine my confusion, then, when I first met someone who had gone to Harvard.

The whole thing's worth a read. See also Gary Weinstein's comments on Ann Coulter and elitism.

Anyway, the Miers fiasco has revealed a seam in conservatism that is most unappealing. A good reminder that the loyalty of many on the right to an organized cause can be an ephemeral thing. When it comes to being a reliable member of a coalition, the hard right seems to be no more trustworthy, no less flaky, and no less narcissistic in its own way than the hard left.

UPDATE: Commenter Jib points out that the hard right has steadfastly stood by Bush, and he is correct. I should have said that many on the hard right are untrustworthy and flaky. Again , I am focused here on the ruling conservative intelligentsia, whose emotional outrage over the Miers nomination has been so disappointing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good observations, Hedgehog. Frankly, I think that same elitist tone has always been there at National Review (in the magazine, as well as the website). The Weekly Standard and the old American Spectator had some of it too, but not quite to the same degree.

However, if you mean to suggest that this is only a conservative problem (as opposed to one that conservatives should be less susceptible to), I'd suggest that the problem is even more evident on the liberal side of the divide, where the appeal to so-called "progressive thought" and "high culture" always seems predicated on how many Ivy League voices you can find to sign an ad in the New York Times when it's deemed necessary to shoot down an uprising out of middle America. 

Posted by BlueBuffoon

Friday, October 07, 2005 7:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The party of the little people ended about the time Reagan adopted "trickle down" economics. The only little people who vote Republican are those that are somehow fooled into thinking a tax cut for Dick Cheney or Paris Hilton benefits them. So you feel a little sorry for yourself because these intellectual elitists are talking down to you. How does it feel to be fooled? 

Posted by BlueBuffoon

Friday, October 07, 2005 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Kent said...

A good reminder that the loyalty of many on the right to an organized cause can be an ephemeral thing.

Are we to be loyal to the organization or the cause?

I'm deeply disappointed with the nomination. I'm even more disappointed so see so much name-calling over it. I didn't attend any Ivy League schools, choosing (that is the right word) BYU and Caltech instead. Ivy-league elitism isn't my reason for being upset by the nomination, and I resent any claim that it is.

I have seen lots of reasonable discussion why we should or should not support the nomination. None of the "not" discussions mention her lack of Ivy League status. Please knock off the ad hominems and focus on the arguments.


Posted by Kent Budge

Friday, October 07, 2005 1:25:00 PM  
Blogger AST said...

The reason for the mention of the "Ivy League" comes from the repeated arguments that Miers isn't "one of the leading lights of American jurisprudence" (George Will); that she hasn't published a lot of law review articles as law professors would have. This is from Tom Tancredo:
"We expected someone who would be an intellectual power house to move the court, to influence the court.. . . We need it; we deserve it; and there are plenty of them out there."It's just a coincidence that most of the people who are attacking Miers are Ivy League graduates, but it seems to be a handy shortcut for this kind of thinking.

Charles Krauthammer: "To nominate someone whose adult life reveals no record of even participation in debates about constitutional interpretation is an insult to the institution, and to that vision of the institution."

Andrew Sullivan calls this nomination "an insult to the conservative intelligentsia."

My thought about this is that they don't seem to have ever considered that maybe the problem with our current court is that it has been so over-intellectualized. People who think like this tend to be dissatisfied with simple decision making, which is the real job of SCOTUS justices, the opinions are just explanations. What I want to see is a court that recognizes that a lot of the most stimulating debates of our time are policy arguments and not Constitutional ones.

There is one big lie that has been perpetrated: That for the government to prohibit anything is oppression of those who want to do it, because it denies them freedom of thought, choice, and belief. It shouldn't take much intellect to see what's wrong with that argument. Indeed it doesn't take that much to recognize the difference between policy arguments which should be settled by public debate and legislatures and those based solidly on the Constitution, as opposed to inferences and penumbrae.

The real talent required is the Hedgehog one: focus. Focus on whether a given cause is one that the Supreme Court should be settling. There needs to be a recognition that SCOTUS was not meant to be the Philosopher Oligarchs of the country and some self-restraint that does not come naturally to most intellectuals.

Friday, October 07, 2005 4:43:00 PM  
Blogger The Hedgehog said...

Kent: Re-read my post. I am not calling anyone names, just describing supercilious, snobby attitudes. You have your own reasons for being disappointed; so do I. My earlier posts make it clear that I am not thrilled that Miers was nominated. The question is, what do we do now? Do you really think her nomination should be withdrawn? If so, wy? Because of who she is not ? 

Posted by The Hedgehog

Friday, October 07, 2005 6:26:00 PM  
Blogger Jib said...

I agree with you 99% of the time, but I do have to agree with Kent on this a little bit. I'm not entirely sure of why this charge of elitism has become so predominant. I know of plenty of "Main Street Republicans" who oppose this nomination for many of the same reasons that Ivy Leaguers do. I've seen very little criticism on the 'no' side that focuses on Miers lack of an Ivy League education. Yes, she is a very accomplished woman, but still a third tier, unpredictable candidate for the Supreme Court at best. Whatever happened to this party's belief in meritocracy? Is that now only applicable to affirmative action?

Should the nomination be withdrawn? Probably not, it wouldn't be very practical. And that's part of the problem-people feel like they are stuck with this choice because there is no good way out of it.

I dislike the snobbiness of some Ivy Leaguers as much as anyone, but really, this elitism thing is silly.

Oh, and one more thing about your last paragraph comments about the "hard right". This is a "hard right" (if you can't tell, I also dislike you're reference to anyone in the party who disagrees with the President on this as flaky and hard right) has stuck by President Bush's side through an awful lot of things they haven't liked over the years.  

Posted by Jib

Saturday, October 08, 2005 12:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Hedgehog--and right on!!!

I am a middle class, (well I guess so, but I feel like a lower income class at times) Republican. 2 kids, decent job, wife stays home, state school, non lawyer.

The snobbery and elitism that is being displayed by the intellectuals disgusts me. It disgust me so much I am reconsidering my allegiance to the republican party. I do not want wizards in black robes as the only people who are "qualified" for the SCOTUS. Miers seems eminently qualified, she has worked her ass off to get where she is. She is the epitome of middle class. Lets have these hearing and nominate her.

I now read NRO with a grain of salt, the elitism and snobbery there is breathtaking (and they are absolutely blind to it). The right is shooting itself in the foot over this. thanks for your good work!!! 

Posted by Vin

Saturday, October 08, 2005 5:12:00 AM  
Anonymous flytier1 said...

Hi All,

I think that Hedgehog has things about right. I was not happy with the choice of Miers, but how can I know about the political realities which may be operative? I saw Chris Matthews and other liberals just giddy about this turn of events this morning. I do not take this as a good sign. My degrees are from the University of Chicago and the University of Washington, so I suppose that I am possibly from second-tier schools. Since my degrees are in physics, and I at least had a chance to be the proverbial rocket scientist; I think that I should get extra credit! :) Ok, isn't that just sad? :) Shouldn't I, as someone typing stuff on the internet, simply be judged on my prose? I am a Hugh Hewitt fan. I would not trust being on the back of a snowmobile that he was piloting, but I generally think him sensible. He made his choices clear, but is not willing to go over the top about this different choice. Beldar also seems to me to be making some good arguments.

What I have most liked about the right side of the blogosphere is that it is not elitist. You are judged on the strength of your argument. Any mistakes are duly noted, and it has been my experience that most people are happy for the assistance with any mistakes. I do have a Laura Ingraham story which I thought was humorous (not to be piling on or anything, I'm just saying :) ), but she did not seem to take it too well. I, among many others, did rush to correct her criticism of that old nut Byrd's use of the word loath (or loth). The funniest part to me was her staff's reaction. They were giving her a hard time, but isn't it their job to help out with such things? Even an Ivy-league sort can't know everything, although that is the attitude that I noticed from prospective students at the U of C who were from Exeter, or elsewhere, who were destined to go to Harvard (sorry Hugh! :) ). It is this synergy which makes the right side of the blogosphere useful to me. I knew at a young age that I could not know everything, and with a poor memory I need all the help that I can get! I am not swayed decisively by either side on this one. I will wait and see with a reasonably open mind. This Mier hullabaloo need not get disagreeable, but it seems to be threatening to do so. When Democrats are visibly happy (against their nature seemingly), I am worried.


Posted by Mike

Saturday, October 08, 2005 9:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with you. Of course, I'm from Texas, from the same DFW area as Ms. Miers, and so am just plain unhappy with the NRO bunch. I will even go so faer as to contribute a little ad hominem to the stack and reminds everyone that the founder of that journal gew up with a pile of money and has never in his whole life had to put in the hours that Ms. Miers did to make her way. While she was doing 18 hrs days, Mr. Buckley was on his yaht on high seas trying out marijuana. 

Posted by John Schuh

Saturday, October 08, 2005 3:33:00 PM  
Blogger Sam Karpov said...

I live in NYC. There is no such thing as a local job market as most companies love to recruit from colleges outside of the NYC Metro area, save NYU and Columbia. The IVY league elitism is so thick, you'd need a hacksaw to cut it. Just meantioning I attended a SUNY school is a conversation killer. I once went to an event at the Harvard Club and felt as inferior as anyone. My person favorite was at a monthly libertaruian event were kids in their young 20s were bragging about there jobs at Morgan Stanley. I was tempted to spit in their faces. The respublicans are making a big mistake if they let the IVY leaguers run things. They have there own little club in which non-IVY leaguers are excluded.  

Posted by Sam Karpov

Friday, December 30, 2005 4:49:00 PM  

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