Elites? That's somehow bad?

This kind of he-said-she-said False Equivalence journalism is infuriating and is the prime reason why nobody trusts the corporate media any more which is why the newspapers are dying:

Academic Elites Fill Obama's Roster:

.....All told, of Obama's top 35 appointments so far, 22 have degrees from an Ivy League school, MIT, Stanford, the University of Chicago or one of the top British universities. For the other slots, the president-elect made do with graduates of Georgetown and the Universities of Michigan, Virginia and North Carolina.

While Obama's picks have been lauded for their ethnic and ideological mix, they lack diversity in one regard: They are almost exclusively products of the nation's elite institutions and generally share a more intellectual outlook than is often the norm in government. Their erudition has already begun to set a new tone in the capital, cheering Obama's supporters and serving as a clarion call to other academics. Yale law professor Dan Kahan said several of his colleagues are for the first time considering leaving their perches for Washington.

"You know how Obama always said, 'This is our moment; this is our time?' " Kahan said. "Well, academics and smart people think, 'Hey, when he says this is our time, he's talking about us.' "

But skeptics say Obama's predilection for big thinkers with dazzling resumes carries risks, noting, for one, that several of President John F. Kennedy's "best and brightest" led the country into the Vietnam War. Obama is to be credited, skeptics say, for bringing with him so few political acquaintances from Illinois. But, they say, his team reflects its own brand of insularity, drawing on the world that Obama entered as an undergraduate at Columbia and in which he later rose to eminence as president of the Harvard Law Review and as a law professor at the University of Chicago.....

What a load of bull!

A society builds Universities for a reason - as places where the best and the brightest, surrounded by the other best and brightest, gain knowledge, skills and wisdom, as well as humility that comes from having one's ideas challenged by colleagues every day. These are the places explicitly built to train the new generations of leaders - people who have a good grasp of the way the world works and a good understanding of the best ways to deal with the curveballs that the world throws at people and societies. These are exactly the kind of people a country needs to lead it.

Where else can one gain such knowledge and skills? You can learn fist-fighting skills out on the street. You can learn how to fudge books in the business world. You can learn how to sing hymns in church. You can learn how to ignore reality, spin fairy tales and destroy the English language in right-wing "think" tanks. But the honest useful skills are learned only in the academia.

Why is Washington Post, in this piece (and most others, this is just the latest example), inserting irrelevant opinions of "conservatives" and so-called "skeptics" (really 'pseudo-skeptics')?

Over the past 28 years, and especially starkly over the past 8 years, every single "conservative" idea has been shown in practice to be wrong and dangerous. The conservatives, what's left of them (although many of them erroneously, for historico-local reasons, think of themselves as conservatives although they are not, or label some liberal ideas as 'conservative' although they are not) are out wondering in the wilderness.

So, why should any media outlet ever ask any conservative for any opinion on any topic? They have been proven wrong on everything, their ideology is dead, and their opinions are irrelevant (except for the humor segments). Inviting a conservative (or a Republican, because these two terms are today, more than at any time in history, equal and interchangeable) on a show is just like inviting a Creationist on a show when the topic is a new finding in evolutionary biology. Quoting conservatives in a newspaper article is just like quoting a Global Warming Denialist in an article about climate change - irrelevant, laughable, wrong and, yes, dangerous because it gives the audience the wrong idea that conservatism still deserves respect. It does not.

With conservatism debunked and dead, the next opposition party to the Democrats will come from the Left, not Right.

No, it is not the loss of advertising that dooms newspapers. It is not the unruly, wild bloggers. It is their own dishonesty. Let them die. Now.

Douglas Baird, who hired Obama at the University of Chicago, noted that whizzes can also have too much faith in their answers. But he said Obama is confident enough in his own intellect to challenge others' conclusions. He recalled watching Obama hold his own with erudite faculty members.

"He goes into a faculty club filled with Nobel laureates, and he talks to them on equal terms -- there hasn't been anyone in the White House like that for a long time," Baird said. "So it's not as if, when he's given advice by powerful, smart people, that he'll get swayed from his core principles. And if you're confident you're going to stick to your own principles, then you might as well surround yourself with smart people rather than dumb ones."

More like this

WHy the media in all forms must seek the opinions of the conservatives.

After all, they are the salt of the earth, the common folk, the heartbeat in the heartland.

You know, the only real Americans & Jesus's chosen children - not like those damned liberal elites.

By Robert Jase (not verified) on 07 Dec 2008 #permalink

spot on, coturnix. and this from our "liberal media"? it'd be laughable if it wasn't so ridiculous and sad.

But the honest useful skills are learned only in the academia.

I agree with the overall thesis of your post, but this specific statement is obviously false due to being ridiculously broad. Beyond the huge list of largely hands-on skills (farming, carpentry, cooking, pottery, etc) which are useful and can be learned outside of academia, there are people who learn good management (or, more frequently, what management is not good) at business and government jobs, and also in politics. As a famous example, Kennedy obviously learned useful decision-making skills from the bay of pigs fiasco. He wasn't in academia at that time. Ironically, Obama's two books also contain many examples of useful skills he learned outside of academia.

Yes, too broad. No space for endless caveats in a single blog post. Jobs elsewhere, though, provide experience only if coupled with knowledge gained in school (directly or indirectly), or from people who gained it at school.

Maybe they are expecting Obama to diversify his administration by offering Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin high-profile appointments?

Jobs elsewhere, though, provide experience only if coupled with knowledge gained in school (directly or indirectly), or from people who gained it at school.

I can't help but point out that "school" is not the same thing as "academia."

I agree with llewelly, though, that your comment ("But the honest useful skills are learned only in the academia") is hopelessly broad. In fact, it's so broad as to be a load of bullshit.I have numerous relatives on my wife's side who have learned "honest useful skills" that allow them to make a living completely outside of academia.

You have a tendency to take a semireasonable point and go right off the deep end with it.

Hey! This is supposed to be a representative democracy!

Less than 25% of the US population holds a University degree, and one in eight never finished high school. It's about time that the Administration reflected the population it serves; where are the high-school dropouts? How come they're all college-educated?

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 07 Dec 2008 #permalink

Oh, but the usefulness is defined quite narrowly - certainly not 'making a living', but "governing USA". There's a difference, a big one. And the main difference is about learning how to be Reality-based and not to be shy about changing your mind when the new empirical data hit you in the face.

Oh, but the usefulness is defined quite narrowly - certainly not 'making a living', but "governing USA".

I think you and Dr. FreeRide could have a fine debate on this point.

Let me suggest in her place that it is not the role of American universities to impart job skills, even (or especially) if those skills are those of government. It is the role of American universities to provide their graduates with the basis for a lifetime of learning, including learning job skills -- governance not excepted.

Like surgery, the skills of governance are learned after University graduation.

That said: Just as there are schools (Berkeley, Stanford, Cal Tech, MIT, etc) which attract the most promising young physicists, there are others which have a history of preparing their graduates for government. Why should we be surprised that young people preparing themselves for careers in government go to schools which offer just that?

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 07 Dec 2008 #permalink

Which means we agree. This post is about governing. Governing requires Reality-based thinking. Reality-based thinking is not widespread in any society but is specifically taught at universities. Subsequent application of this mode of thought (NOT job skills!!!) elsewhere (in business or law, for instance) refines one's skills outside of Ivory Tower, i.e., in the real world where one has to deal with many people who live in Bush-like, gut-feeling, wishful-thinking mode of thought. All of this together, as a package, makes for someone who can potentially be good at governing (no guarantees, of course). That's what this post is all about. As were many of my old posts from 2005 or so.

A broad range of experiences -- both academic and worldly -- can be very helpful in preparing you to deal with things. I wouldn't sacrifice either kinds of experience.

Having said that, I think the "skeptics" who argue Obama is relying too much on well educated people must themselves be brain dead. One thing a good education cultivates is any talent a person might have for learning -- learning being something we haven't seen very much of in the last 8 years.

Another thing: The Washington Post should loose the "Skeptics say this", "Skeptics say that", bullshit. Everyone knows the Post's writer is just making up those skeptics or, at best, reporting what some drunk said at a Washington cocktail party.

See how that works? If "skeptics can say...", then I can say "Everyone knows..."


Related (and, like Russian dolls nested inside each other, links within links there).

But the honest useful skills are learned only in the academia.

I think you had a lot of people nodding in agreement until that line.
It's phrases like that that make academia the subject of scorn, because to people that aren't in the circle it basically comes off as horribly condescending. Plus it's incorrect, even as it was rephrased.
Karl Rove, George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, and all have degrees from universities, most from well respected ones. Clearly they're all grounded in reality. They're good leaders, too!

By JThompson (not verified) on 07 Dec 2008 #permalink

As I said above, it is not a guarantee. It is necessary but not sufficient for good governance.

It is necessary but not sufficient for good governance.

If you mean, "respect for reality is necessary etc." then you're on the verge of a truism. If you mean, "A University education is necessary etc." then there are too many counterexamples for the proposition to stand.

I suspect that there's a degree here of confusing correlation with causation. In developed countries today it's extremely rare for a bright, determined, and organized person to not take advantage of educational opportunities at good universities, and those talents are also the ones that are essential in any enterprise, government not excepted. Admittedly the various benefits accruing to attendance at one of the big-name schools tip the scales even further.

Let's not kid ourselves that all of those "benefits accruing" are intellectual. Networking counts, nowhere more than in politics.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 07 Dec 2008 #permalink

This WaPo article is very specifically talking about:

- United States.
- Its government.
- Current moment of great problems to be solved.
- And kinds of people best suited to solve them.

The answer to that article is: yes, only people with extensive university education (plus extras from real-life experience afterwards), contrary to those invented "skeptics", are capable of doing this particular job. How is that controversial?


Because it is possible to pick up those skills simply by picking up books and starting to read. Granted it's going to be rare but to state that the ONLY way to get those skills is through university is fairly insulting to well read intelligent people everywhere. There's nothing magical about the environment in which that education is acquired. The point should be that we need intelligent, truly educated, and thoughtful people. To link that to a One True Way of acquiring that education is simply wrong and a slap in the face to all of the truly educated and thoughtful people in this country who have not been to a university.

several of President John F. Kennedy's "best and brightest" led the country into the Vietnam War

And the people who led the US into the second Iraq war may have been the best and brightest President Bush II could muster. Seen on a slightly larger scale though, "good" and "bright" is not how most people would describe them.

What I learned from an American university education:

1. You can do what you want after you acquire tenure, and then make sure no one else can do what they want, or get tenure to do it.

2. Competition is the best engine of human progress, especially when you went to school with all your competitors, or shared the same curriculum.

Yep, thats bollocks. If you want your plumbing fixed, you hire a plumber and the best one you can reasonably afford.

You don't go and grab the nearest hobo to fix your plumbing to ensure some sort of "anti-elitist diversity" whilst hoping he turns out to be an unemployed by competant plumber.

By Captain Obvious (not verified) on 08 Dec 2008 #permalink

sng: that's what I meant by "indirect" above. Also, as you may note above, I am not talking about just book knowledge - rather the competitive environment in the academia where you are daily forced to re-evaluate your ideas due to colleagues' challenges.

Martin: that's what I meant with "no guarantee" above.

Baltimoron: this is why Obama is not picking just anyone with a degree, but very specific people with degrees.

President John F. Kennedy's "best and brightest" led the country into the Vietnam War.

Wasn't Yale-educated president George W. Bush was lead into the Iraq war by Plumbers? No, no, of course not. It was Dick Cheney and his likes. Let's see ... where did Cheney go to school? Oh, he flunked out of Yale and eventually earned a BA and MA from U of Wyoming, and a PhD from Madison. Madison. Isn't that where they train commies?



Yes, I see what you're trying to say there. The reason I think this, possibly minor point, is worth pounding on is because these are your natural allies that you're risking alienating. The people who are ardent supporters and think it's so very refreshing that they have a President Elect who is surrounding himself with smart people. But by upholding, or at least appearing to uphold, academia as the one true way to that you, to be frank, sound like a condescending ahole who is minimizing the role of those of us who are educated, thoughtful, smart and not in academia for whatever reason. Since I -know- you aren't a condescending ahole I think it's worth calling you on that very badly phrased bit. And I don't think you need endless caveats to express this simply leaving out the "only" or saying "mostly" instead would have included us and made it clear that you value us while indicating that this is more prevalent in academia. Keep in mind we admire and respect good academics. Thus our support for the President Elect. But you can rankle us by using exclusive language.

As for "the competitive environment in the academia where you are daily forced to re-evaluate your ideas due to colleagues' challenges". I would invite you to come troubleshoot networks with me and my friends then set at the bar with us and discuss science, philosophy, ideas, and the world with us and then tell me that that's the exclusive domain of academia. To be clear not one of us thinks we have any business being anywhere close to the President Elect's team or could do their job. But that's a matter of degree not type. Your exclusive language makes it sound like it's a matter of type not degree. If that makes sense. Now if you were looking at executives and other folks who might think they're qualified well then you have a point there. They wouldn't know an honest exchange of ideas if I shoved it where the sun don't shine with my number 9s. :)

If conservatism is "dead" then expect a zombie epidemic.

If you think your opponents will go away because they're wrong and have been debunked, ask a climate scientist how effective that is...

Paul Krugman is a Princeton academic that Obama should spend time listening to. Of course, Krugman is a columnist for the NYTimes, and is also this year's Nobel prize winner in Economics.

Krugman predicted many of the economic hardships that we are now enduring, and his insights into how to get us out of this mess are probably worth a bit more than those of either Geithner or Summers.

By Portofinoan (not verified) on 08 Dec 2008 #permalink