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Egalitarians or Elites?

Jack Hunter uses the Alvin Greene affair [1] to debunk the Left’s claim to “intellectual superiority.” This guise of superiority, which at least partially motivated liberals to brusquely reject Greene’s candidacy, also contradicts their belief that, in the words of John Jay, [2] the average citizen who “owns the country ought to govern it.”

The typical Democratic congressman wasn’t exactly struggling to pay the rent before deciding to run for Congress. Considering the political and economic homogeneity of their current elected leaders, shouldn’t liberals welcome Alvin Greene as a real representative of the forgotten little guy?

Liberals immediately relegated Greene to circus-clown status when he won the Democratic nomination. One could condemn them as callous hypocrites for this, but it is admittedly tough not to snicker while watching Greene struggle to remember his general election opponent’s name and reply “No Comment” when asked to name a city he visited while allegedly campaigning across his home state. Still, with the Left simultaneously aspiring to be above and beholden to the desires of the average citizen, intellectual honesty mandates they concede either the former is undesirable, or the latter is untenable.

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#1 Comment By Guav On June 21, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

“their belief that, in the words of John Jay, the average citizens “who own the country ought to govern it.”’

I don’t know any of the left who believe that—especially since the people who own the country are anything but average citizens. This is a straw man.

“shouldn’t liberals welcome Alvin Greene, who lacks rigorous ideology…”

No. My problem with Greene is not that he lacks a rigorous ideology, but that he appears to lack any ideology at all, and there is no evidence that he has any ideas, either.

If I thought Sarah Palin was a terrible candidate because I felt that she lacked any real knowledge of the issues facing us, then why would I back Greene who certainly “seems to have the intelligence of a pet rock” and makes Palin look likes a Rhodes scholar?

“with the Left simultaneously aspiring to be above and beholden to the desires of the average citizen”

And this I think is the difference between much of the left and much of the right—the left wanting to act in the interest of the average citizen does not mean that we think the average citizen has the expertise or knowledge to be a good leader. The right—who fawned over Sarah Palin and Joe The Plumber—seem to think being average is the greatest thing to desire in a candidate.

I want to elect people who are SMARTER than me and know MORE about the issues than I do, not someone just like me. Because I don’t believe that my passable knowledge of the issues in any way qualifies me to help lead this country. I simply don’t know enough.

But I certainly know more than Greene appears to.

#2 Comment By Matthew Cockerill On June 21, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

You make many interesting points. The Left, by definition, favors empowering the middle and lower class; I think the ideological contradiction lies in their concurrent desire to concentrate political power in the hands of the intelligent and educated.

#3 Comment By SteveM On June 21, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

Re: Guav – “I want to elect people who are SMARTER than me and know MORE about the issues than I do…”

Big mistake. That’s the elitist trap. Using intelligence as a proxy for wisdom. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, et al. have infected America with scores of nitwits who have wrecked economies and initiated foreign policy disasters. Simply because they got their academic tickets punched. They then stupidly punched out the lights of this country with their smug idiocy.

Obama? Rumsfeld? Geithner? Kagan?…ad infintum… We can do without those kinds of SMARTS.

#4 Comment By Guav On June 21, 2010 @ 4:33 pm

Matthew:
“I think the ideological contradiction lies in their concurrent desire to concentrate political power in the hands of the intelligent and educated.”

As opposed to the stupid and uneducated?

Are you saying that one cannot empower people without electing them to office? We have millions of lower and middle class citizens, obviously they must be empowered in ways other than electing them to office, since only a handful of Americans can hold office at any one time. Furthermore, merely electing someone with certain traits doesn’t inherently empower all the other people with those same traits.

Also, plenty of intelligent and educated people are lower and middle class (and plenty of stupid people inhabit the upper class). My issue with Greene is not his class—it doesn’t bother me that he is unemployed, or not wealthy, or that he lives with his father. It bothers me that he can’t form a coherent sentence or speak about the issues or explain how he plans to achieve the few goals he’s able to sputter out. I clearly has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. Period.

SteveM:
“Big mistake. That’s the elitist trap. Using intelligence as a proxy for wisdom.”

Don’t take me to mean that I think ANYONE smarter than me would make a better leader than I, simply as a result of being better educated, that’s not what I am saying at all. I’m not using intelligence as a proxy for wisdom—I’d very much like our elected officials to have both. I’d also like our elected officials to have a working knowledge of the issues that they will have to take on. This is bad?

I cannot fathom why being “average” or uneducated is seen as a paramount virtue by so many on the right. There’s something to be said for knowledge, intelligence and expertise, don’t you think? They don’t replace wisdom, honor and principle, but that doesn’t make them irrelevant (and certainly not faults).

The next time you have to undergo surgery, do you want an average doctor? One who knows only a little more about anatomy than you? (Or maybe a little bit less—perhaps his “gut” will make up for the lack of knowledge). Do you want a surgeon who you can “have a beer with,” or a surgeon who knows what they are doing?

Sure, there’s a chance you might die under the knife of the top surgeon, and there’s a chance that I could pull off the surgery and you’d live, but generally speaking, we don’t take those sort bets. I don’t want an average pilot, doctor or lawyer, and I don’t want an average representative either.

I can’t believe this is even a point of contention.

#5 Comment By SteveM On June 21, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

Re: Guav again

My contention is the perverse illogic of American power elitism.

The fact that a surgeon has a medical degree and is board certified informs me of his/her competence. While an Ivy League degree informs me of nothing about someone’s ability to govern. It only informs me that they were able to get admitted to an Ivy League institution. (See George W. Bush.)

When Michael Dukakis was elected governor of Massachusetts he crowed that he would apply what he had learned at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in governing the state. He he did just that, and then proceeded to wreck the economy of the Commonwealth.

When Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense he issued daily “snowflakes” which were simple, stupid mind dumps that only generated staff churn, no real policy or managerial value. Rumsfeld was/is an idiot. If I were the President and had heard about Rumsfeld’s ego driven inanity, I would have told him that he was a chump and probably fired him for being so blatantly stupid. A Princeton degree and a buck forty-five gets a nitwit like Rumsfeld a ride on the Metro.

Here’s the thing. People who go to Harvard are smart, but they ain’t that smart. The downside of the Ivy League experience is the hubris and conceit that it embeds in its graduates. Dwight Eisenhower graduated at the bottom of his class from West Point. He was well aware of the limitations of the academic power elite. If only Barack Obama had his insight.

P.S. Knuckleheads like empty-suit Kathleen Sebelius graduate from non-Ivy League institutions of course. Which simply tells us that everyone in Washington should be suspect…

#6 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On June 21, 2010 @ 7:37 pm

The cure to the Greene and Palin problem would be to institute the old Roman Cursus Honorum, in which you must hold a succession of lower offices before you get a crack at the big ones. At least the Romans could cull the cowards and nitwits from their system before they could do real harm. It didn’t work perfectly, but it did expose the degree of character, judgment, nerve and luckiness their candidates possessed.

I don’t think the last three presidents would have made it to the top under such a system. The Censors would have seen Clinton off early on. Bush would have been killed in the field in his first action. And Obama would never have gotten beyond Tribune. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been allowed citizenship?

This system could only happen by Constitutional Amendment. So our clowns with dreams of electoral grandeur can sleep safe tonight with their visions of motorcades intact.

#7 Comment By Mad Doc MacRae On June 21, 2010 @ 11:33 pm

“At least the Romans could cull the cowards and nitwits from their system before they could do real harm.”

Leaving only the best liars and plotters to rule the roost…

#8 Comment By Publius Cato On June 22, 2010 @ 12:40 am

Guav: The answer to centralization in the hands of the technocrats and intelligentsia is to de-centralize government decisions and return them to the people to decide for their communities based on their own local and unique knowledge.

Thomas: was that the system that gave Rome Crassus, Pompey, Sulla and Marius and Julius Caesar. Political careerism, not nitwits and cowards, is what destroyed the Roman Republic.

#9 Comment By J Bryce On June 22, 2010 @ 4:37 am

“Also, plenty of intelligent and educated people are lower and middle class”

Yes, but none of them are elected to office by the Democratic party. That’s the whole point that Matt was making; even intelligent and educated lower and middle class people lack the pedigree to be considered suitable candidates to anyone on the left.

Also, the fact that only a select few schools are considered good enough, education wise, for candidates to be acceptable. Harvard and Yale make good lawyers, but they’re not objectively good for engineering, economics, or political theory. They have a self-selected group of intelligent people, but the curriculum is questionable. Other schools better educate students in certain areas, but lack the seal of approval for left electability.

#10 Comment By Guav On June 22, 2010 @ 11:21 am

SteveM:
You’re talking a lot about Ivy League schools, and how degrees don’t make people good leaders. Well, I agree. I never said I wanted the people we elected to office to have gone to Ivy League colleges (nor did I ever tout them as superior to other colleges). And of course having a degree alone doesn’t make someone a good leader—I never said I wanted them to have degrees at all. I don’t think attending college is the only way to gain knowledge and/or leadership. I never went to college, but I think I have a pretty good knowledge of many important topics and issues.

My issue with Greene isn’t that he lacks an Ivy League education or a fancy degree, but that he’s a mushmouth with apparently no working knowledge of… ANY issue, it seems.

J Bryce:
“Yes, but none of them are elected to office by the Democratic party.”

Keep in mind the full quote I was replying to, in which Matthew said “The Left, by definition, favors empowering the middle and lower class; I think the ideological contradiction lies in their concurrent desire to concentrate political power in the hands of the intelligent and educated.”

His implication being that “the middle and lower class” & “the intelligent and educated” are two entirely separate groups of people. I was merely pointing out that unless you think the lower classes are always unintelligent and uneducated and that the upper classes are always smart and educated, then there’s not really a contradiction at all.

#11 Comment By Matt Cockerill On June 22, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

The Left wants to empower the poor, but also wants to concentrate power in the hands of the bright and educated. Doing the latter disproportionately empowers the wealthy, who, contra the cries of the PC Stazi, are more likely to be highly educated and intelligent than lower and middle class folks. That’s a rather impolite truth, and it obviously doesn’t tell the whole story; I point it out only to nullify your objection.

If one is a consistent egalitarian, he or she should vote for Alvin Greene. You think Greene’s stupid? 20% of adults in this country believe the sun revolves around the earth. Where is their equal representation? Some Democracy this is!

#12 Comment By Jbraunstein On June 22, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

There’s something wrong with Alvin Greene. He doesn’t appear to have any social skills whatsoever, even assuming he isn’t mentally deficient. The man can’t articulate a complete and coherent sentence, and he wants to represent a state??

That aside, it was a constant liberal refrain during the 08′ presidential run how refreshing and relieving it was to have a presidential candidate who was the “smartest guy in the room”, whose knowledge level was off the charts and who could, therefore, be most trusted to make complex decisions on the Peoples’ behalf. There was this thick credulity, almost fetishizing Obama’s academic smarts, and his meritocratic achievements. Liberals were fawning over the idea that the government could finally be run by “the experts” again. The importance of Obama being perceived as super smart was strong enough to overcome the objections of his opponents that he had no experience.

There is of course the stupid counter-position by populist conservatives to fetishize “averageness”. However, both prejudices, towards same-seeking or better-seeking, are essentially identity-borne preferences and tend to confuse matters of principle and character with identity. Washington is overrun by Ivy-League grads either because they are a self-selecting insular ruling elite, or American voters still think that an Ivy League education is a marker for several other positive and desirable traits in a public official.

I think it should be clear as day by this point that where you went to school, or whether you ever lived on a farm, are not very good predictors of personal or professional integrity.

#13 Comment By Guav On June 22, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

“The Left wants to empower the poor…”
They would like to empower the public, the poor are included in that—the Left doesn’t want to empower specifically just the poor.

“…but also wants to concentrate power in the hands of the bright and educated.”
The Right doesn’t want bright people elected? If not the bright and educated, then who—the dull and stupid? Oh, wait, I guess that’s true these days, more and more. I always thought The American Conservtive was the exception to that though.

“If one is a consistent egalitarian, he or she should vote for Alvin Greene.”
No, a consistent egalitarian should support his right to run for office and, if enough people vote for him, his right to win. That doesn’t mean a consistent egalitarian has to vote for him if they don’t think he’s the best choice, and nobody is inconsistent for not doing so.

“You think Greene’s stupid?”
Yes. And so do you.

“20% of adults in this country believe the sun revolves around the earth. Why don’t they have equal representation? Some Democracy this is!”
Since we’re a Republic, and not meant to be a Democracy, this does not trouble me in the least. They can vote for any Earth-Centered Theory candidates they want, if they can find one.

#14 Comment By J Bryce On June 22, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

“I was merely pointing out that unless you think the lower classes are always unintelligent and uneducated and that the upper classes are always smart and educated, then there’s not really a contradiction at all.”

I don’t think that, but please understand what I meant. The Left DOES believe that the smart and educated come from the upper class. The problem is exactly as you described: the Left believes in classes separated by wealth concurrently with intelligence.

#15 Comment By Guav On June 22, 2010 @ 9:43 pm

Can you provide some evidence to support your claim?