America’s New Mandarins

Thoughts on the narrow focus of those who would rule us. For our own good, of course:

I think that to some extent, the current political wars are a culture war not between social liberals and social conservatives, but between the values of the mandarin system, and the values of those who compete in the very different culture of ordinary businesses–ones outside glamor industries like tech or design.

What’s remarkable is that this is coming from me. It’s not like I came up on the mean streets of Camden, or come from a long line of dockworkers. Both my grandfathers were small business owners. My father and most of his siblings have spent at least some time as professors. I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and went through middle and high school at what is now the most expensive private school in New York City. (I should note that it wasn’t anything of the kind when I went there. But still.) My experience of working class life consists of some relatives, a few summer jobs, a stint in the secretarial pool at a nonprofit, three years with a firm that had a substantial cable installation practice, and one year in a construction trailer at Ground Zero. Most of my work experience is in writing stuff, and then talking about what I write. I’m hardly the Voice of the Proletariat. Or the Voice of Industry, for that matter.

And yet, this is apparently considerably more experience than many of my fellow journalists have, especially the younger ones. The road to a job as a public intellectual now increasingly runs through a few elite schools, often followed by a series of very-low-paid internships that have to be subsidized by well-heeled parents, or at least a free bedroom in a major city. The fact that I have a somewhat meandering work and school history, and didn’t become a journalist until I was thirty, gives me some insight (she said, modestly) that is hard to get if you’re on a laser-focused track that shoots you out of third grade and straight towards a career where you write and think for a living. Almost none of the kids I meet in Washington these days even had boring menial high school jobs working in a drugstore or waiting tables; they were doing “enriching” internships or academic programs. And thus the separation of the mandarin class grows ever more complete.

The president epitomizes this class of people. He has his credentials, but he is completely clueless as to how a business works, or what it takes to make one succeed. In fact, I suspect that’s true of many of his cronies as well. The route to become head of a major Wall Street firms lies largely through credentials and connections, often political (e.g., the revolving door between government and Wall Street — what real-life business skills does Franklin Raines have?), not in real-world experience.

Like Megan, I come from a family that worked with their hands (auto mechanics and carpenters), at least on my mother’s side. My grandfather built two boats from scratch in the thirties, inboard motors using auto engines, and a family cottage in northern Michigan. When I graduated high school (barely), I went to work as an auto mechanic, an experience that after a year persuaded me that I didn’t want to do it all my life. I do think it gives me a perspective, particularly as an engineer, that a lot of people with engineering degrees but no practical experience don’t have, and it certainly gives me a different one than many of the other policy wonks in DC.

It’s also worth noting that, as Angelo Codevilla’s latest essay describes, it’s a bi-partisan problem:

The ever-growing U.S. government has an edgy social, ethical, and political character. It is distasteful to a majority of persons who vote Republican and to independent voters, as well as to perhaps one fifth of those who vote Democrat. The Republican leadership’s kinship with the socio-political class that runs modern government is deep. Country class Americans have but to glance at the Media to hear themselves insulted from on high as greedy, racist, violent, ignorant extremists. Yet far has it been from the Republican leadership to defend them. Whenever possible, the Republican Establishment has chosen candidates for office – especially the Presidency – who have ignored, soft-pedaled or given mere lip service to their voters’ identities and concerns.

Thus public opinion polls confirm that some two thirds of Americans feel that government is “them” not “us,” that government has been taking the country in the wrong direction, and that such sentiments largely parallel partisan identification: While a majority of Democrats feel that officials who bear that label represent them well, only about a fourth of Republican voters and an even smaller proportion of independents trust Republican officials to be on their side. Again: While the ruling class is well represented by the Democratic Party, the country class is not represented politically – by the Republican Party or by any other. Well or badly, its demand for representation will be met.

…by the turn of the twenty first century America had a bona fide ruling class that transcends government and sees itself at once as distinct from the rest of society – and as the only element thereof that may act on its behalf. It rules – to use New York Times columnist David Brooks’ characterization of Barack Obama – “as a visitor from a morally superior civilization.” The civilization of the ruling class does not concede that those who resist it have any moral or intellectual right, and only reluctantly any civil right, to do so. Resistance is illegitimate because it can come only from low motives. President Obama’s statement that Republican legislators – and hence the people who elect them – don’t care whether “seniors have decent health care…children have enough to eat” is typical.

Republican leaders neither parry the insults nor vilify their Democratic counterparts in comparable terms because they do not want to beat the ruling class, but to join it in solving the nation’s problems. How did they come to cut such pathetic figures?

The Tea Party was/is largely a response to this.

21 thoughts on “America’s New Mandarins

  1. Gregg

    Codevilla’s essay is an astonishing read. It puts a lot of the weirdness of recent GOP elite behavior into a decent context. Time and time again I have wondered why Boehner and company don’t fight back twice as hard. It’s because they want to be part of the elite.

    This is not a new idea but Codevilla gives it some history and context.

    The one question I have is why Codevilla is so sure the situation is unstable and will pop.

    A lot of writers claim Obama is a masterful campaigner and is master of the message etc. He’s pretty good but I think most of his success is simply due to the fact that he has no opponent.

    Logic and common sense, properly laid out, would make a mockery of most of Obama’s blatherings. For example, the 800,000 laid off workers…no meat inspectors….no air traffic controllers…..no Head Start program…and on and on is nothing more than scare mongering but it’s effective because there’s no one of stature presenting the facts.

    1. Der Schtumpy

      Gregg,
      you’re leaving out a very important part of Obumble’s successes.

      There is NO broad outlet for the masses to HEAR any dissenting voice(s). Limbaugh [who at best has become a parody of himself], Hannity, O’Reilly, and all the rest on the Conservative / Libertarian side have few open outlets for their opinions and actual facts.

      They get a few minutes on Sunday mornings or on weirdo Lefty shows on MSNBC and CNN, or even on Fox shows, for the Right side views. Then after their 8 minutes, the MSM has 40 shows, all screeching about racists, murderers, homophobes of the Right for the next 18 to 24 hours before that person gets another 8 minutes to rebut.

      That’s how the Nazis did what they did.

      They drowned out every voice but their own. Unfortunately, people can be sold a bill of goods IF they hear it often enough and LOUD enough. Following the old adage that, you can fool ALL of the people, SOME of the time, the Nazis fooled them long enough that the German people were locked in and had no way out. The Japanese went down a similar road. And once the majority of the people, and especially the YOUTH of those countries were convinced they deserved to rule and that their leaders could get that for them, WWII was inevitable.

      I think the Wahhabis take all the pages from that same propaganda book. Islam DESERVES to rule the world, Allah says so, as did Hitler, as did the Emperor. supposedly. And it’s the same thing the Left is doing here and has been doing since the mid to late 1960′s.

      Thus far, the culture war in America has been verbal.

      But I think many in charge on the Left really would line up those who disagree with them or their view of the future and recreate the Killing Fields of Cambodia. At a bare minimum Gregg, some of the leading voices of the Left, openly admit they should lock up anyone who voices ‘dissenting opinions’. And from the easily accessable comments, they seem to have plenty of ‘soldiers’ willing to do the arresting, incarcerating, lining up and shooting!

      And as an aside I have to be honest, I think that is PRECISELY why this WH is pushing so hard for this gun ban. You’ve gotta disarm the kulaks before you turn the unions and peasants loose on them.

      1. Larry J

        From “South Pacific”

        “You have to be taught
        Before it’s too late.
        Before your are six, or seven or eight.
        To hate all the people your relatives hate.
        You have to be carefully taught.
        You have to be carefully taught.”

        In addition to the media outlets you mentioned above, don’t forget what kids are being taught in school and who is doing the teaching.

        1. Der Schtumpy

          Too true, too, too true.

          Fortunately, and for those of us so inclined, the schools have to work uphill against what the family teaches. And I must have done something right, my kids were a philosophical thorn in the sides of the public schools, now my grandsons are.

          The 8 y/o had the unmitigated gall this week, to tell one of his classmates that he HAS a knife. Zero Tolerance required that it be WELL and properly documented and that he be completely humiliated. Except for the part(s) where he had no knife at school, and we all know that the knife he has is here, in a box, where he can’t get to it, without us to get it. They so lost this round with us, that the Principal was near tears in frustration.

          For them, it’s just too bad, too, too bad.

  2. M Puckett

    These people live in an artifical world and have no connection to the Earth. They spout nonsense about the environment but can’t comprehend a handful of soil.

      1. Al

        No! Particularly not then.

        Blathering on about how “organic” is superior … and then instead of using nice, chemically ‘clean’ components to make the soil, they’re adding peat moss, ground ores, sands, and clays willynilly. A local PBS special was proud of the 20+ “all natural chemical replacements” they had found. Which were mostly just non-purified versions of precisely the same chemicals.

        Just because the material came from an actual swamp doesn’t magically eliminate the heavy metals. It just means you don’t have to track them.

  3. Larry J

    IMO, a lot of the over-the-top hostility to Sarah Palin was due to her not being part of the New Mandarin class. She attended several state colleges before graduating with a journalism degree. She “talked funny” because she didn’t have the proper Ivy League (corncob up your ass) accent and mannerisms. And yet, she was a governor and selected as a vice presidental candidate! She was obviously unqualified because she wasn’t one of them.

    Our nation is over $16 trillion in debt and growing fast. The economy is still sluggish. The New Mandarins have enacted the policies that got us here. Time to select a new bunch, even if we follow Buckley’s dictum and select people randomly from a phone book.

    1. wodun

      She is looking pretty good now in comparison to Biden and anytime a Democrat mocks her someone should remind them about the guy they selected as VP. Eastwood may have flubbed his performance but the man was right on in his assment of the guy with a grin and nothing behind it.

  4. Robin Goodfellow

    In practice there is little functional difference between a busybody government that intrusively regulates every aspect of daily life in furtherance of moral betterment and the establishment of a state religion.

  5. rickl

    Codevilla knocked it out of the park again.

    I’ve been saying for a while now that the Republican Party is becoming like the “conservative” or “right” parties of Europe: They don’t question or challenge the welfare state; they merely argue that they can administer it better than the “left” parties. England’s Tories never call for legalized gun ownership or privatization of the NHS. Ideas like that are considered to be beyond the pale of rational discourse.

    Likewise, the American Republican Party gives lip service to reducing the size and scope of government, but in reality they have no intention of doing so. All they want is a seat at the table of power.

    I’m not claiming that Codevilla got the idea from me, but it is gratifying to see that he and I are on the same page.

  6. Dick Eagleson

    This isn’t exactly a new problem. There’s an old story about LBJ telling Sam Rayburn breathlessly about all the advanced Ivy League degrees the people he’d inherited from JFK had. Mr. Sam is alleged to have replied that he’d feel a lot better about these guys if any of them had ever run for county sheriff. I would certainly agree that the problem has gotten worse in recent years, though.

  7. IcePilot

    Never underestimate the compulsion of liberals to go over the top. President Obama now knows that he can lie through his teeth and get away with it due to the eager help of the mainstream media.

    Except that I don’t think he can – truth will out.

    1. Gregg

      “Except that I don’t think he can – truth will out.”

      Well he’s been lying for 4 years and the truth is out only among a few select people.

      I know women who actually SAY they are “in love with my president” (their words).

  8. Ed Minchau

    Here’s what’s going to happen. At the last minute sometime around the end of next week, a “deal” will be rammed through which will Save the Country from Sequestration. That deal will expire at the end of March, and another Fiscal Cliff (under a different name) will happen. Then it’ll be “this time by golly we’ve got to raise taxes even more and also add new government agencies and increase spending in the rest or else it’ll all be the Republicans’ fault” again, and they’ll have another 11th hour deal.

    That will kick the can down the road another two weeks. April 15th will be fascinating.

  9. ken anthony

    Face it, the big lie continues to work. Screaming at the tv doesn’t really help.

    It is a mandarin class. The problem is within. Really within. Haven’t you ever caught yourself believing some elements of the big lie?

    It’s the Inn of the sixth happiness. Bush is the Mandarin (except he never changed.) Sarah was Ingrid Bergman.

    They are not just RINOs.

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