Noemie Emery: They're not elites, they're just wrong

Anne Applebaum, a serious woman wed to the serious Radek Sikorski, and the author of a great book on the Soviet Gulag, is defending the court of President Obama against charges made by Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, Ginni Thomas, et al, that Obama and similar Ivy League babies represent an arrogant and unseemly elite.

Her case seems to be that a) the Ivy League, when it began in the 70s to recruit the poor and minorities, created the first meritocracy ever seen in this country; b) that its graduates are our deserving, legitimate leaders; and c) that Palin and Thomas, among many others, are ingrates who ought to shut up.

But America has been a meritocracy from the very beginning, placing John Adams and Alexander Hamilton on the same plane as the children of grandees and planters; the rich and the poor have always shared power; and Ivy credentials have never meant all that much.

There were many routes to the top that did not lead through Harvard, as Presidents Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln can demonstrate. Our best run of presidents was 1933-1963, when a Hudson Valley patroon, a failed haberdasher from Independence, Missouri, a soldier from Abilene and the “first Irish Brahmin” faced the Depression, the Nazis, the Cold War, and desegregation with decent results, and no whining.

Two went to Harvard, two didn't; two were born rich and connected; two weren't.

Our best president following these was a B actor from Eureka College and Hollywood. Our two greatest presidents had little or no formal schooling. An Ivy degree doesn't exactly disgrace you, but as a leadership mark, it means next to nothing. And resentment of modern elites is not jealously of one's “betters,” as Jonah Goldberg is quick to explain:

“It's only one subset of Ivy Leaguers that seems to bother anybody….the lawyer-social engineers-journalist-activists they churn out by the boatload,” as he writes in The Corner. “To the extent the Ivy League comes up it is as a code word [for an aggressive, progressive agenda] that is pissing so many people off.”

As the Ivy League grew more diverse demographically, it became more conformist in attitude–and more estranged from the country at large. Goldberg is right, but he omits the real reason this “elite” is resented: because it is so often wrong.

Saying the Berlin Wall fell when the world “stood as one” is na?ve and delusional. Thinking a man will be a great leader because of one speech, two books, and the crease in his pants is a sign of poor judgment.

Ignoring mass protests, plunging polls, and three huge shocks at the polls is willful stupidity. Thinking one can pass a bill that impacts everyone against the will of most of country without courting a backlash is nothing short of inane.

When this backlash occurs, it is dense beyond words to claim that this stems from a fear of “the other” (meaning non-whites and immigrants) while these rebels strive to elect blacks to the House in South Carolina and Florida, Hispanics to the Senate in Florida, Hispanics to the governors' mansions in New Mexico and Nevada, and to elect the daughter of Indian immigrants to the state house in South Carolina, home of secession and massive resistance, where the far right gave twice as many votes to black conservative Tim Scott as to one of Strom Thurmond's sons.

There are words to describe this, but “bright” is not one of them. This meritocracy has created an “elite” without merit. In everyone's eyes but its own.

Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to TheWeekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”

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