Friday, January 27, 2006
The House of Lords
Prince Pinch of the Fourth Estate
HELPING THE MASSES. Yesterday, the New York Times published an editorial about Samuel Alito. It said, in part:
The judge's record strongly suggests that he is an eager lieutenant in the ranks of the conservative theorists who ignore our system of checks and balances, elevating the presidency over everything else. He has expressed little enthusiasm for restrictions on presidential power and has espoused the peculiar argument that a president's intent in signing a bill is just as important as the intent of Congress in writing it. This would be worrisome at any time, but it takes on far more significance now, when the Bush administration seems determined to use the cover of the "war on terror" and presidential privilege to ignore every restraint, from the Constitution to Congressional demands for information.
There was nothing that Judge Alito said in his hearings that gave any comfort to those of us who wonder whether the new Roberts court will follow precedent and continue to affirm, for instance, that a man the president labels an "unlawful enemy combatant" has the basic right to challenge the government's ability to hold him in detention forever without explanation. His much-quoted statement that the president is not above the law is meaningless unless he also believes that the law requires the chief executive to defer to Congress and the courts...
A filibuster is a radical tool. It's easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.
This depressing presentation of left-wing political persectives as if they were obvious mainstream positions immediately reminded me of a recent Hugh Hewitt column in the Weekly Standard. Mr. Hewitt had occasion to spend some quality time with current students at the Columbia School of Journalism, where a new dean is reportedly trying to repair the crumbling credibility and competency of professional journalists. One professor even permitted Hewitt to poll members of a core class in the curriculum. Here's what he learned about the current student body of the most prestigious school of journalism in the land:
A fifth of the students are from the New York area, and between 37 to 40 percent are from "the corridor"--from Boston to Washington. Another fifth are from the west coast, and 10 percent are foreign. It is a pretty "blue" student body, and willing to pay handsomely for the privilege of their credentials. A year at CSJ--tuition, living expenses, incidentals--comes to $59,404...
The "blue" nature of the student body is further confirmed by my polling of the class I attended.... Six of the 16 were English majors, two studied history, and the balance spread across the humanities. No one had a background in the physical sciences. No one owned a gun. All supported same-sex marriage. Three had been in a house of worship the previous week. Six read blogs. None of them recognized the phrase "Christmas Eve in Cambodia"... Three quarters of them hope to make more than $100,000 as a journalist, 11 had voted for John Kerry, and one for George Bush (three are from abroad and not eligible, and one didn't vote for either candidate). I concluded by asking them if they "think George Bush is something of a dolt." There was unanimous agreement with this proposition, one of the widely shared views within elite media and elsewhere on the left. The president's Harvard MBA and four consecutive victories over Democrats judged "smarter" than him haven't made even a dent in that prejudice.
The intake valve at the elite media's equivalent of the Army's war college isn't pulling in many conservatives. In fact, it isn't pulling in many moderates.
Between these two quotes, we have a quick and dirty snapshot of America's Fourth Estate, an institution so traditionally powerful that it has become very nearly another branch of government. It may be the case, in fact, that a lot of people believe the first three estates are the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the American republic. But historically, the definitions are French: The First Estate is the nobility; the Second Estate is the clergy; and the Third Estate is the peasantry.
This societal model has nothing to do with contemporary American political culture. Or does it? The more I think about the arrogance, intransigence, and blindness to its own self-contradictions of the American left, the more it seems that any illuminating explanation cannot be fundamentally political, but must be almost purely social.
Try this hypothesis: The political leadership of the Democrat Party constitutes the nobility (1st Estate). The academic institutions, including colleges, universities, foundations, and think tanks are the new clergy of the post-Christian Age of Secularism (2nd Estate). And the rest of America, including the despised Republicans and red-staters, as well as the much-needed servant corps of minorities, union members, and other dependent recipients of government largesse, are the peasantry (3rd Estate). The mainstream media, of course, remain the Fourth Estate in this construct.
To see why this might matter in practical terms, it's important to understand that the historical difference between nobility and peasantry was absolute. A peasant could not become a noble by acquiring money or position. Nor could a noble become a peasant by losing his land and fortune. A noble is from birth to death simply better than a peasant, regardless of other circumstance. In Dumas's Three Musketeers, for example, the noble hero d'Artagnan begins his career impoverished, uncouth, and uneducated in all disciplines. He cannot afford to pay his first servant, and they both eat scraps and sleep on straw, but D'Artagnan still has the automatic right to order his servant about and beat him without rebuke. The difference between them is in the blood.
Now consider the history of American liberalism, whose founder and inveterate icon was Franklin D. Roosevelt, an unabashed aristocrat. FDR led his New Deal revolution with a cigarette holder clamped between his teeth and a frosted martini glass in his hand. He was a graduate of Groton and Harvard, a member of Harvard's Fly Club, which is located less than two blocks from Teddy's notorious Owl Club and was -- and is -- rather more exclusive. Roosevelt was also related by birth to two of the most powerful players in the World War II campaign, Winston Churchill and Douglas MacArthur. Churchill was of distinctly noble blood and had to resign his title in order to run for office in the House of Commons. In doing so, he was part of a long tradition of aristocrats managing the democratic affairs of the peasantry for them, a tradition to which Roosevelt also obviously belongs. The father of America's New Deal for the common man was by any definition a blueblood, a native of the same part of the country Hewitt designates as the Boston-Washington "corridor," where an enormous percentage of the country's institutional credentialing power continues to reside.
It's a curious but demonstrable fact that ever since the New Deal, Democrats have consistently retained mass popular support without abandoning their upper-crust credentials. Most loved after FDR was JFK, graduate of Choate and Harvard, and the son of one of FDR's ambassadors to the Court of St. James. Al Gore, androgynous senator's son and Harvard graduate, won the popular vote in 2000, as the Democrats will NEVER forget. It was this same vein of aristocratic populism John Kerry attempted to tap into in his own political career; the congressional hearings in which he testified as a young man are as cringe-inducing for his faux Kennedy accent as they are shameful for his dissembling. He is an archetype of the "transnational" identity that has always characterized European nobility, owing in his particular case to his childhood in France, Germany, and Switzerland and his centuries-old family roots in New England, whose influence on him was analyzed in depth in a piece called John Kerry's America during the 2004 election campaign:
In the eyes of many New Englanders, the region is culturally more like Europe than the rest of America. It has cobblestone streets, centuries-old buildings, established families who dominate the local history books, each with its own seal and tartan... No New Englander worth his salt will own up to being a snob, but New England snobbery is undeniable. It's there in the jokes, in the vocabulary, in the knowing references to the benighted souls back in the red states... True to the region's Europhilic origins, New Englanders, as a whole, care deeply about what France and Germany think about America, Americans, and U.S. foreign policy. When Kerry wrings his hands about the need to "rebuild our alliances," he's not just giving voice to his own concerns; he's playing to his base, a constituency that can't bear the thought of losing international popularity contests.
John Kerry's failure is due less to his aristocratic bearing than to his lack of a common touch; you've got to smile winningly at the peasant beggars from time to time. Yale and a half-billion dollar fortune are perfect credentials for a Democrat populist. Where he failed, many others have succeeded, and it's important to point out that his senate seat is still as safe as Teddy's.
I'm sure there will be people quick to object that these are extraordinary exceptions and hardly indicative of anything other than the fact that money and politics have always been inseparable. Look at the Bushes: it's the same thing. Except that it isn't. A family like the Bushes on the Republican side of the aisle is, indeed, such an outstanding anomaly that it accounts for much of the blazing hatred the left spews toward them -- to the puzzlement of many in the peasant hinterlands.
How might one prove that the First Estate label is far more appropriate for Democrats than Republicans? A good place to look for evidence is the U.S. Senate. Most senators are rich or at least well off. But there are some definite differences in the demographics of senate membership in the two parties. For example:
- Name the party whose senate membership includes a Hall of Fame baseball player, two medical doctors, two veterinarians, a Cuban refugee, the daughter of Greek immigrants, the spouse of a former Miss Oklahoma, a member of the AFL-CIO, and 30 graduates of state universities located in their home states (54 percent).
- Name the party whose senate membership includes a Rockefeller heir, a Rockefeller spouse, a former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, two Rhodes scholars, two senator's sons, the spouse of a senator's widow, the brother of a President, the wife of a President, and just 17 graduates of state universities located in their home states (38 percent).
And, yes, the lists above are not entirely fair. The Republicans have a senator's son (Lincoln Chafee) and a Rhodes Scholar of their own (Richard Lugar), while the Democrats have a miner's son as Minority Leader, but isn't it the Republicans who are supposed to suffer from a lack of diversity and a lack of understanding and compassion for the average folk back home? So where is it that the Senate Democrats acquired all that understanding and compassion for ordinary Americans?
The answer is clear in their biographies. They acquired them at a handful of the most elite colleges and universities in the world: Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, M.I.T., University of Chicago, West Point, Annapolis, U. Michigan (Law), Wellesley, Swarthmore, University of Virginia, Georgetown, Duke, and Washington & Lee. Fully 58 percent of the Democrats in the Senate went to one or more of these schools, and to top it off, 65 percent of them have law degrees.
Republicans? About 30 percent have degrees from these elite institutions, with 54 percent possessing a law degree.
These statistics become even more discrepant when the female membership of the Senate is analyzed. The Democrats boast of having nine women senators against the Republicans' five. But it's the Old Boy's Club of Democrats who apparently scorn the level playing field. Only one of their nine female senators has a law degree (Hillary), and the only other two who have advanced degrees of any kind have a Masters in Social Work. Only three of the male Democrat senators do not have an advanced degree of some kind: John D. Rockefeller IV, Mark Dayton (heir to the Dayton-Hudson department store fortune), and Frank Lautenberg; six of the women do not: Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell, Dianne Feinstein, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, and Patty Murray.
On the Republican side, the women have the same order of credentials as the men. Removing them does not change the percentage who have elite degrees or law degrees: 30 percent and 54 percent, respectively. And 20 percent of Republican senators do not have advanced degrees, including two Vietnam veterans (McCain and Hagel), two marines (Roberts and Burns), a man nicknamed "Perfect Game" (Bunning), a professional horse shoer (Chafee), and a member of Phi Beta Kappa (Collins).
The uniformity of the men in the Democratic senate is remarkable if their credentials are examined in isolation. 67 percent of them (i.e., 36 senators) have degrees from just 13 elite universities, and 80 percent have law degrees (which doesn't leave a lot of room for doctors and vets and MBAs, let alone self-made men, farmers, athletes, actors, and horse shoers).
Think back to the Democrat men of the Judiciary Committee upbraiding Alito for having attended a snob school like Princeton, while two-thirds of their old boy colleagues possess similar credentials. What is really being scorned here? The elitism of Princeton? Or the presumption of a peasant who matriculated out of his class? (Maybe we should ask Princeton graduate and Rhodes Scholar Paul Sarbanes (D) of Maryland what he thinks.)
An important note. In harping on the distinction between elite universities and state universities, I am not implying that there is any absolute difference in quality of education. The membership of the senate exhibits the same kind of two-hump curve found in the corporate world, where the most successful executives tend either to have elite degrees or state school degrees, without very much in between. The meaning of this should be obvious. The population excels in intelligence and accomplishment across the board. In youth, though, some could afford the prohibitive costs of the elite schools, and some could not. The cream still rises to the top. What does make for an interesting discussion, though, is the likelihood of a distinctly different social experience between the elites and the more affordable state schools.
This brings us to the Second Estate. The professoriate of our colleges and universities constitutes, in our hypothesis, the clergy of American aristocracy. It doesn't take a cultural anthropologist to detect that the leftward tilt of this professoriate increases as one moves up the scale of prestige to the top universities in the country. Maybe there are those who would undertake to make the argument that the faculty at the University of Oklahoma is just as left-wing as the faculty at Harvard, but I don't envy them the task. The community into which young scholars are invited at the most elite schools is not a physical place, but a conceptual domain of intellectual and cultural superiority. These are the high priests who write the scripture that undergirds the nobility's assumption of divine right to rule.
Now given that the Fourth Estate is populated by courtiers who have been educated by the same clerics and who regard it as their sacred duty to support the nobles of the First Estate, it finally becomes possible to see that politics per se is not the governing factor in the mix. The peasantry matters to the extent that they constitute much of the subject matter in the games and gossip at court. But the peasants will always remain peasants. That's why the political minds of the nobility, the clergy, and the press do not see any philosophical contradiction in the fact that their most earnest efforts to improve the plight of, say, black peasants serve only to keep the black peasants trapped in the same old cultural prison. Of course they're always going to be poor: that's why the nobles need to be able to control more of the national income and redistribute it with the usual self-flattering fanfare. It's why they don't see a contradiction between affirming the right to choose for pregnant women while denying the peasants' right to choose non-government schools, firearms for self-protection, and a consumption tax in place of a Big Brother income espionage/confiscation system. It's why they see no contradiction between their constantly reiterated devotion to freedom of speech and their own (and their clergy's) sewer-mouthed refusal to tolerate it from peasant conservatives.
And because they are nobles -- with all the historical connotations the term implies -- they see no contradiction in the fact that their own deepest loyalties are not to the nation in which they were born, but to the pan-European aristocracy that has been running things for the peasantry in the Old (better) World since one or two kings got carried away in times past.
So now they are engaged in a great war of reaction. Despite the fact that they exercise absolute control of two of the four estates -- clergy and press -- they feel their power slipping away. Too many peasants in the Senate and House. A traitorous bastard malapropist in the White House. They absolutely require an institution above the vulgar House of Commons the U.S. Congress has become. They see the U.S. Supreme Court as their missing House of Lords, endowed ideally with the noble (and lifelong) right to veto peasant legislation or rewrite it from the bench -- and make of the Constitution what royal edicts have always been, a moveable feast that satisfies today's appetite and, with a new stroke of the pen, tomorrow's too, whatever it may be.
It is intolerable to contemplate, even for a moment, that the peasants should be able to dismantle the House of Lords and turn it back into what Chief Justice Roberts called a "referee at a football game." They don't understand how this dire outcome could actually occur, and it's so black and white in their minds that they can't even explain their disgust.
But I think I just have.