Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another Chapter in Serial Stupidity - Jonah Goldberg, Serial Idiot on Elitism

Jonah Goldberg is such a rich source of material although I write about him infrequently as I hate to give him and his delusions too much importance. Making the leap from his so-called expertise on affirmative action and all things racial, Goldberg ties those beliefs to elitism.  He takes issue with progressive concern over the teabags' rage against the elites who, according to him, want to "boss us around." From Media Matters, Jonah is quoted as saying:
"To date, I've seen not one instance of Tea Partiers denouncing engineers, physicists, cardiologists, accountants, biologist, archeologists or a thousand other professions who've emerged from elite schools. Because those people aren't bossing anybody around."
In Tuesday's Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about the teabaggers' "anti-elite" rage. Applebaum illuminates the growing resentment of the Ivy-League educated by teabags by saying:
"...Nowadays, successful Americans, however ridiculously lucky they have been, often smugly see themselves as "deserving." Meanwhile, the less successful are more likely to feel it's their own fault -- or to feel that others feel it's their fault -- even if they have simply been unlucky..."
To paraphrase Applebaum's point, when Sarah Palin, Christine O'Donnell and others call people elitist, they are usually referring to people they don't like, don't agree with, and who don't agree with them. I would add that after all, Alaska senate candidate Joe Miller is a Harvard graduate --an education that is about the most elite possible-- and he would be nowhere without the backing of Sarah Palin. O'Donnell is in trouble partially because of her claims --false-- that she is a graduate of Columbia graduate school. So, fairly good evidence of the validity of Applebaum's claim if teabags feel the need to claim an ivy-league education, true or not.

A point that is brought out in Applebaum's piece, is that the American dream that we are all raised with is the same one that is held against many of those who today most exemplify that dream. We are taught that we can be anything we want, do anything we want, and that we are limited only by our willingness to work hard. Unfortunately, I believe that this dream has caused more harm than good over time as conversely, it tells us that if we do not succeed, that it is our own fault --something that as a sociologist I can say is often not true. Yet, here we have a president who is the embodiment of the American dream, the true rags to riches story, yet considered by the right to be the most elite of the elite.

In his quite derisive piece, Goldberg begins by setting a tone that attacks Applebaum personally before he even starts his analysis of her argument. Referencing a stand she took on an unrelated issue, he conflates the two to suggest that since she has a (to him) inappropriate belief in one area, it carries over to all of her opinions. Goldberg says that use of the term "ivy league" is code for elitism (good to know) and that progressives have it backwards when they see complaints about progressive goals as attacks against the ivy-league elite. Huh? Both Goldberg and Will Collier who he quotes in his update state that Applebaum is clearly biased (she is a Yale graduate) and that her thesis is that only those with an ivy-league education are intelligent. I must say that after reading her piece several times as I write this, I fail to come to that conclusion and believe me, one of the things you must learn in any college education (full disclosure, I went to a state university), is to discover the thesis behind any piece of writing.

Goldberg says:
"For Applebaum, the fact that the elite graduated from top-tier schools is all the proof she needs that these people deserve to be in charge. Indeed, Applebaum — without a moment’s pause to cite any evidence — insists that universities have diversified without dropping standards at all. (But I don’t want to have an argument about quotas and all that, because it’s a distraction from my real objection)."
Then don't bring them (quotas) up. I am so tired of the continuing belief that affirmative action included quotas. It did not. In fact, quotas were illegal. I wrote a thesis on affirmative action and feel somewhat qualified to speak to the right's deliberate misrepresentation of the purpose behind affirmative action and its policies, and the truly ridiculous notion that one generation or less was sufficient to redress the inequities of 300 years. Anyway. I'm not finding where she says that only the "fact" that the elite graduated from "top-tier" schools makes them deserving of being in charge. And, you shouldn't demand that others include evidence in their work when you do not include it in yours.

What is truly bizarre, is that the teabags resent the educated, calling them elite, equating them with an ivy-league education when in fact, what they resent is the education, period. In the past, the ivy-leagues were available only to those with the proper pedigree regardless of SAT's, community service, or gradepoint average (think George W). As a result of affirmative action, it was the ivy-leagues who offered the most in response and thus created the most diverse alumni --people who came from all races and ethnicities, and social classes. The graduates of the ivy-leagues over the past 40 years are truly representative of the American dream that is so hard to reach for most.

Trying to explain what it is the teabags are angry about when they complain about elitism, Goldberg says of Applebaum: [emphasis added]
"She doesn’t seem to grasp, let alone acknowledge, that it’s only one subset of Ivy Leaguers that seems to bother anybody on the right: the lawyer-social engineers-journalist-activists they churn out by the boatload. No one begrudges kids who’ve made good from tough backgrounds. What bothers lots of Americans is when those kids then think they are entitled to cajole, nudge, command and denigrate the rest of America. To date, I’ve seen not one instance of Tea Partiers denouncing engineers, physicists, cardiologists, accountants, biologist, archeologists or a thousand other professions who’ve emerged from elite schools. Because those people aren’t bossing anybody around."
This last is so breathtaking I almost don't know where to begin. "No one begrudges kids who've made good from tough backgrounds." Umm. Okay. Unless you're President Obama or a Democrat.

He goes on to say:
" is the agenda of a very specific and very self-styled elite, not the existence of an elite that is pissing so many people off. Some of the angriest and most dedicated people I meet at Tea Party events are quite wealthy and successful, often with shiny educations equal to Applebaum’s. What infuriates them is that they see a country that once determined merit in the market place or in civil society, becoming a country where what counts as merit is determined by government directly, or indirectly."
What does that mean? Merit was determined "in the market place or in civil society." When? Okay. I understand the market place, but civil society? I guess he's saying that if you exhibit the correct values (conservative perhaps?) then you have merit? And where does he get that merit is determined by government directly or indirectly? What does that mean? And what does he mean by "what counts as merit?" Perhaps Jonah doesn't understand definitions. Merit:
  • Noun - something that deserves a reward, or the the fact of deserving
  • Verb - deserve
  • Adjective - based on (ie a raise)
Pretty clear to me. Of course, this idea is one of the primary distinctions between Democrats and Republicans, including teabags. Republicans equate success with money in the bank and morality with church attendance and how much they tithe. Democrats equate success with personal fulfillment and satisfaction and morality with how one makes choices when no one else is looking. Granted, hugely generalized, but you are unlikely to find someone with the later values in the Republican Party or vice versa. Look at this campaign. The 1st Amendment was designed to protect the media from government so that we the people may have the information we need in order to make good decisions about who to elect to represent us, the theory then being that those running for office (and holding office) have an obligation to provide that information. Right? Now, we have teabags who refuse to talk to the media unless they can solicit funds and control the questions. A true return to our Constitutional roots as demanded by the teabags would be a requirement that they stop running away from the media and actually present their policy ideas. Radical concept, I know.

Anyway. Jonah is an interesting character and believes himself to be an expert on affirmative action and has written extensively on that subject. Trying to style himself as an academic type, Goldberg is the author of the oxymoronically titled "Liberal Fascism" and weighed in during the Sotomayor hearings. His "expertise" on affirmative action was highly valued by the extremist right as they used the very program designed to help her and others succeed, to attempt to disallow that success. His comments on affirmative action parroted the continuing Republican mantra of reverse discrimination that hurts those poor, white men. You can read more about it here.

A few days after his intrusion into the Sotomayor affair, Goldberg, suddenly an expert on foreign affairs and the middle east, wrote about what President Obama should do about the situation taking place at that time in Iran (this was during the protests during the summer of 2009). As I pointed out at the time, Goldberg holds a prime position on my serial idiots list.

What are the teabags really doing? In blaming the elitists who are trying to "boss us around" and equating anyone with an ivy-league education as an elitist, they are refusing to acknowledge those who are the embodiment of the American dream if that dream culminates in progressive ideals. Sure there are elites, and there are elites who are graduates of ivy-league schools. But what is truly the definition of an elite? Personally, I believe it is someone who is admitted to an ivy-league school because of their family background and maintains their place despite near failing grades (George W) or believes that because of what they have they are somehow special.

Teabags are really attacking progressive ideals, and equate elitism with being told what to do. They are angry with a government interfering in their lives and telling them what to do and conflate those in government who hold ideas and make policy decisions they don't like with those with a good education because we now have a president they don't like who went to an ivy-league school. My question? A government that wants to move into my bedroom, doctor's office, and re-write scientific texts to match a minority point of view is far more intrusive than a government that is there to provide for the public welfare. I reject, again, Goldberg's premise and his and the teabags continuing attempts to build strawmen (see Fallacies above) rather than address the actual issues.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

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