Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Conservative Republican Elitism

This op-ed by David Ignatius, "Meet The New Elite," deserves a read. He argues that "we are living in the post-Reagan era. The outsiders of old are insiders; the conservatives are credentialed and networked." (Note: Ignatius' bio states that he "[g]raduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1973, then received a Frank Knox Fellowship from Harvard and went to King's College, Cambridge, where he received a diploma in economics in 1975." So he's certainly got elite credentials himself.)

In college, my political science professors used to joke that the way to get a State Department job was to "go to Harvard and turn left." Now it appears that the road to influence in the conservative Republican world is to go to an Ivy League school and turn right.

I must say that my non-Ivy mind disagrees with Ignatius to a certain extent. It is surely a mark of distinction to attend and graduate from an Ivy League school and (obviously) an even greater distinction to have an impressive academic record there. Since the founding of the nation, such people have risen to the top in government, and the Bush Administration is far from the first to rely on them extensively.

Still, something about this does not sit well with me. During the intra-conservative Miers debate many seemed to be saying (whether they would admit it or not) that by default, if you want a serious job like Supreme Court justice done right, the best person for the job is one who has a highly-credentialed Ivy League background. This view seemed to be everywhere, most notably at NRO's Corner and sites like (One amusing thread at worried about whether Judge Alito is a "feeder judge," an insider term meaning that his clerks go on to be Supreme Court clerks. I had to smile; what did this mean about his qualifications to be on the high Court? Now we were talking about issues that matter only to the elite among the elites!)

Anyway, I'd feel better if we saw more people in high positions who had superb academic records at the Universities of Nebraska, Florida, Notre Dame, Utah, Colorado, Mississippi, Arizona, and the like. Those are not Ivies, but I think the Republic would still be safe, somehow.


Anonymous Peggy said...

Excellent, hedgehog! I definitely agree with you. 

Posted by Peggy

Wednesday, November 02, 2005 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous BlueBuffoon said...

Good points, Hedgehog! In an interesting convergence, I just read today an article in the November Atlantic Monthly  that supports the idea that it may not matter so much where a student attends college as how well equiped they are when they go there, and whereever:

"In How College Affects Students , a landmark review of thirty years of research on college learning, Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini found that simply going to college, any college, makes a major difference in a young person's psychological development: students come away with improved cognitive skills, greater verbal and quantitative competence, and different political, social, and religious attitudes and values. But although the researchers found wide variations in learning within each college or university, they were unable to uncover significant differences between colleges once the quality of the entering students was taken into account.

"So it's not just a perverse status-consciousness that makes higher education the only industry in which competitors are rated on the caliber of their customers rather than on their product—or that drives U.S. News & World Report to rank colleges on how well they recruit and graduate already successful high schoolers. It's that we have no other discriminating way to measure collegiate quality.

"It's possible that this situation reflects a real absence of variation—that there really isn't much difference between, say, an Ivy League education and four years at a middling private or state school. According to this explanation, faculty members across the country tend to graduate from a relatively small number of doctoral programs, use comparable textbooks, construct similar curricula, hold fairly low expectations for student achievement (particularly in an age of grade inflation), and labor under a system that rewards research over teaching. In this homogenized landscape the quality of entering students is the only thing that matters: 'Diamonds in, diamonds out; garbage in, garbage out.'"

The article notes there are other possible ways to look at things, but no one knows how to measure things any differently. As the graduate of a state university far from either coast, I like the explanation just fine, thank you. Moreover, it may be something that people actually "know" at some level, but can't bring themselves to admit--which, in a sort of perverse sort of a way might also explain the umbrage taken by the conservative "elite" who don't want to be called on it. 

Posted by BlueBuffoon

Wednesday, November 02, 2005 2:23:00 PM  
Anonymous DL said...

Those elitist rascals just threaten the nation so badly.

How about a well-informed article on what really threatens America, like the trend toward the mis-use of the criminal process, and the intellegence community to further political ends.  

Posted by Dl

Thursday, November 03, 2005 7:42:00 AM  

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