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,
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
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 "
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
Am I a better or more successful person for having been accepted at the
, as opposed to my second or third choice? It strikes me as a curious question. In Universityof Toronto , 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 Ontario , 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. Universityof Waterloo
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.