The Washington Post recently ran an article entitled “Academic Elites Fill Obama’s Roster,” lamenting the high level of education achieved by many of the new hirees of the government in waiting.
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.
The Ivy-laced network taking hold in Washington is drawing scorn from many conservatives, who have in recent decades decried the leftward drift of academia and cast themselves as defenders of regular Americans against highbrow snobbery.
Bora Zivkovic at A Blog Around the Clock excoriated the Post for its “he-said-she-said False Equivalence journalism,” pointing out that universities
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.
Since the Post’s take on Obama’s appointments is largely a result of the conservatives they chose to interview, Zivkovic asks
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.
While Zivkovic’s post is drenched in hyperbole (I hope), which means I can’t take umbrage with his actual words, I do agree with his thesis–that having well-educated, knowledgeable and worldly people in leadership positions is invariably a good thing, especially considering the alternatives that we all got a close look at during this election cycle. And indeed, a lot of Republicans are frustratingly unintelligent.
One important thing to note about these appointments, that neither Zivkovic nor the Post mentioned, is that the concept of “academic elitism” is slowly becoming coreferential with “wealth.” Most of the conservatives interviewed in the article seem wary of higher education because of its bias to the left, which they perceive as an ideological problem that threatens Republicanism. However, I would suggest that this is more problematic for other reasons: according to a widely read (and blogged-about) NY Times article, a report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that tuition costs since the eighties have been rising much faster than annual household incomes:
Published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.
Poor families, as usual, have it worse, considering that families in the lowest 20% have to pay 55% of the median annual income in order to afford a year at a public university; private universities obviously cost much more. Even community colleges have seen comparable increases.
As tuition costs rise, it becomes more often the case that only wealthy families can afford college education for their children, and this is a problem that is lamentable if government seeks highly educated people for public office, as they should. The obvious corollary with this kind of recruitment isn’t necessarily the hiring of lots of “radical leftists” and “anti-Americans,” but rather lots of people who are fortunate enough to be able to afford college education instead of people who are intelligent and qualified for college education. This is a problem that hopefully the government in waiting will be able to direct their brain power at.