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An emerging consensus about the growing disconnect

It is always interesting when writers I regularly read and admire disagree with others I read and admire.  And today a blogger I regularly read and admire, Glenn Reynolds, links two such writers taking issue with the latest column from the woman I have dubbed the Athena of punditry.  It’s almost as if we’re seeing a battle on Olympus, a war of wits.

Both William Jacobson and Michael Ledeen are none too happy with Peggy Noonan’s America Is At Risk Of Boiling Over.

Jacobson thinks Peggy is wrong to dub our political leaders detached “from how normal people think is more dangerous and disturbing than it has been in the past.”  Instead, he believes that the élite strategy “in which success is punished is part of the plan. It’s a feature not a bug.

In evaluating Noonan’s piece, Ledeen relates a bit of his own intellectual journey, objecting to her contention that the gap “between the country’s thought leaders, as they’re called—the political and media class, the universities—and those living what for lack of a better word we’ll call normal lives on the ground in America” begin in the 1980s:

She’s got the substance right, but not the dates. The gulf between the intellectuals and politicians on the one hand, and “normal Americans” on the other, probably goes back to the first settlements in the New World. It most certainly did not originate in the 1980s, and to prove that all you have to do is pick up a book written back in the early 1960s by a distinguished Columbia University historian, Richard Hofstadter, called “Anti-intellectualism in American life.”  When I first read that book (an elegant lament about Americans’ traditional lack of esteem for intellectuals), I agreed with Hofstadter that this was a very bad thing. It was only later in life that I realized what a good thing it was, and how fortunate we were to have withheld high status from professors and politicians.

To be fair to Peggy, she wrote that she only “started noticing” the gap in the 1980s.

Both men wrote strong pieces in taking issue with a thoughtful column — where I have to admit, much as love Peggy, she does seem to be a little easy on the élites.  All that said, all three pieces point to an issue which both Bruce and I have been talking about, in our own particular manner, in recent days:  the growing disconnect between those in the governing classes and those in the classes they govern.



  1. thanks for the generous words. yes, there does seem to be a ‘disconnect,’ doesn’t there? as in: congressional approval ratings headed towards zero, hoHO.

    Comment by michael ledeen — August 8, 2010 @ 4:55 pm - August 8, 2010

  2. Why anyone should be surprised that the left is MUCH more concerned with equality of outcome than with equality under the law escapes me. Take any standard of measurement for any policy set forth by the left in the last century. They always measure by the outcome of things. If it involves race its how many blacks, hispanics, native americans, etc… have received the dough. Its not whether a program actually gets a given group to the same level of performance. Its the outcome that always matters. Their faith in the all mighty government is overwhelming.

    After practicing their religion for so many years they’ve come to believe themselves delivered of the word of government. It is the panacea, the golden goose, the be all and end all of life. To believe otherwise is to be cast aside. To speak ill of a policy is heresy and you are to be burned, pillaged and erased from history. Do as I say, not as I do. Huxley/Orwell couldn’t have written things better.

    Comment by Delusional Bill — August 8, 2010 @ 5:23 pm - August 8, 2010

  3. Sorry to veer a bit off-topic, but since this post relates to the divide between ordinary Americans and the liberal elites, I highly recommend everyone checking out William Kristol’s current editorial regarding the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, and his masterful critique of the speech that Michael Bloomberg gave in front of the Statue of Liberty (“Shut Up, He Explained”).

    I don’t read Kristol regularly, but I wanted to stand up and cheer after reading his blistering assessment of Bloomberg’s pathetic and phony remarks about “religious toleration” our obligation to be true to “the best part of ourselves.” I hope Kristol’s piece is widely read because Bloomberg deserves to have this arrogant PR stunt blow up in his face, and it’s important for Americans to know what a vile, simpering weasel he is just in case he is entertaining higher political aspirations. Bloomberg needs to be a full-blown national disgrace, not just a local one. He has more than earned it.

    Comment by Sean A — August 8, 2010 @ 5:26 pm - August 8, 2010

  4. Dan, I know how much you respect Noonan. Of course she makes excuses for the Elite, she is an elite.
    It comes through loud and clear in her writing.
    I recall very clearly how at the Reagan library she talked about how the Republican party must be a big tent and include the likes of Colin Powell, yet she herself is completely unwilling to open her tent to the likes of Sarah Palin.
    True sign of an elite – her way or the highway.

    Comment by Leah — August 8, 2010 @ 5:59 pm - August 8, 2010

  5. I call her Political-Class-Peggy, and yes, she is part of the problem not part of the solution. Polls show the divide between the political class and average Americans is jaw-dropping. I think the latest poll from Rasmussen asked something to the effect if there should be any limits on what the feds can do. Only 10-20 percent of Americans said the Federal Government should be able to do whatever it wants, while a majority of the political class thought so. Other polls show a similar gulf between Americans and the political class.

    The whole lot of them need to be fired — Peggy Noonan included. The “Political Class” is a culture that Noonan, Brooks, are very much a part of, indeed, they are central to it, because even when politicians get fired, the non-elected members of the peer group — i.e. journalists, bureaucrats, staffers, etc…– are the ones who ensure the culture lives on.

    If Americans want to take our country back from the political class — and I think that is essential if we are going to save this country — then we need to fire the entire political class, so that the culture cannot survive even when the politicians lose elections

    That’s why I dont link to people like Noonan, Frum, Brooks, etc, or promote them. But much more needs to be done.

    If we fire the politicians, but their base of support continues to thrive, they will just indoctrinate new politicians. We really do need to strip power away from everyone who is part of the political class. At least part of that majority that is so at odds with the American people.

    It is also the political class, by the way, who were most deadly afraid of Sarah Palin, because she represented an idea that is deadly to them — the idea that ordinary Americans can run their own government and run it better than the political class. She proved she could in Alaska, and that is why they felt they had to destroy her.

    Its us or them.

    Comment by American Elephant — August 8, 2010 @ 6:11 pm - August 8, 2010

  6. Since you bring up Sarah Palin, the thing that really turned the left against her, one could argue, is that she didn’t have Trig or Tripp aborted, which is, in the ethos of the progressive elites, the only “reasonable” response to an inconvenient pregnancy. And much of the elite hatred toward her stems from this violation of the social order. (And, yes, this is an Elite-versus-Regular Folk thing).

    On the progressive left, if a movie director rapes a thirteen year old girl (Roman Polanski) or an eleven year old boy (Victor Salva), it’s not a big deal. Carry an inconvenient pregnancy to term, though, and hell hath no fury like an affronted progressive.

    Comment by V the K — August 8, 2010 @ 6:20 pm - August 8, 2010

  7. She’s got the substance right, but not the dates. The gulf between the intellectuals and politicians on the one hand, and “normal Americans” on the other, probably goes back to the first settlements in the New World.


    Whether you go to Juvenal or Plato, the issue is still the same: Who watches those who watch over us?

    There is a conceit that befalls nearly all those who achieve power: “Because I said so.” In our Republic, it is common for those who attain the elite power of representing “us” to rise above “us” and do what is “best” for “us” whether “we” realize it or not.

    Every teacher is a censor. (In economics, it is what we call it an “opportunity cost.”) When we pick a topic and a method for relating it, we exclude other topics we might have chosen and other methods for explaining the topic we chose. When we choose a direction, we put all other directions aside.

    The problem with elites is that they bask in their own sunshine. They are capable of anger, sloth, envy, gluttony, lust, covetousness and pride. These are the seven seven vices. But we expect our representatives to practice purity, knowledge, honesty, wisdom, honor, justice, effort, persistence, ethics, mercy, loyalty, compassion, integrity, modesty, sacrifice, self-control, and so forth.

    It is a terrible truth that the public trough feeds the worst in all of us. I recently photographed at Ferrari with a handi-capped license plate. It was parked in two handi-capped parking spaces to help ward off door dings. It was also parked a few feet beyond the valet parking service. Just think of the vanity of it all.

    We citizens have been “empowered” with the belief we have rights that can be achieved by throwing ourselves as writhing victims at the feet of the empowered government elite. They, in turn, grab the leash we have attached to our imagined chains and agree to lead us and throw a bone our way to keep us quiet.

    Peggy Noonan has to keep her credentials clean for the crowd she runs with. She is not writing her stuff from Wasilla, Alaska, although nothing she writes requires her to be among the power players in NYC or DC.

    She has chosen her bed and is busy lying in it. She is typical of all hanger’s on of the elite. They are camp followers of power.

    Sarah Palin has managed to keep her roots in tact. People read that like an almanac.

    Comment by heliotrope — August 8, 2010 @ 7:00 pm - August 8, 2010

  8. In the words of David Friedman (Milton’s son) the government has a monopoly on coersion. We are compelled to send about $3 trillion to Washington annually, and we all know they are both corrupt and inefficient in how it is spent. Why do we put up with that? The only way we can be sure we are getting value for our government services is to introduce the profit motive.

    Friedman’s idea (actually it may have been the great libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard’s idea or someone else’s, but Friedman is now championing it) is anarcho-capitalism. That is, privatize nearly all government services.

    Roads can be privatized. Have you ever driven on a poorly maintained toll road? Isn’t it fairer to make the people who use the roads pay for them? Schools can be privatized. Many are already. And private and charter school students, on average, outperform students educated in public schools. Social security can be privatized. Prisons can be privatized. Like some schools, some prisons are already for profit enterprises. Friedman believes even functions like the judiciary and military can be privatized over time.

    By privatizing government services the private entities that provide those services will be forced to provide them in a competitive market. The profit motive instills the discipline lacking in the current system and ensures the services are provided at the best value (otherwise the user of the service will seek another service provider). There is no incentive, NONE, for the government to try to do things more efficiently under the current system. Instead, becaue they have a monopoly on providing government services (with a unionized workforce – how perverse is that for taxpayers?), they just say send more of your money to us. And we have Harry Reid cutting corrupt deals like the Cornhusker Kickback and the Lousiana Purchase.

    The current system is beyond broken. Reagan and Thatcher had it exactly right. They didn’t go far enough and those who came after them failed to follow through. The super scary radical extremist, Sharron Angle, has it right, too, in terms of privatizing social security and eliminating the Department of Education.

    The current system is stealing our liberties and leading to bankruptcy. We have to start thinking about a whole new way of social organization.

    Comment by Scott — August 8, 2010 @ 8:52 pm - August 8, 2010

  9. Dan, you seem to be suggesting that you and most of your audience here represent “those living what for lack of a better word we’ll call normal lives on the ground in America.” When you talk about “the gap between the country’s thought leaders, as they’re called – the political and media class…” don’t you put yourself in “the political and media class” that you decry? You help run a national socio-political blog and you are getting a Ph.D. That kind of takes you out of the running for living one of those “normal lives on the ground in America.” The “normal folks” feel disconnected from the likes of you, too.

    Comment by Phil Holmes — August 8, 2010 @ 9:26 pm - August 8, 2010

  10. Maybe he is, Phil, but the big difference is Dan isn’t trying to run anybody else’s life or use government power to force other people to live according to his preferences. The progressive elite is.

    Comment by V the K — August 8, 2010 @ 9:53 pm - August 8, 2010

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