links for 2009-09-26
Why Health Care Reform Needs a Strong Public Plan: It Saves Lots of Money

Republicans: To the Manor Born

Paul Campos:

CAMPOS: America, after all, is a meritocracy, not an aristocracy. We have no princes of the royal blood, and whatever position a person enjoys in life must be earned. This, indeed, is the basis for one of the most common criticisms of affirmative action.... On the other hand, you have the career of William Kristol. Kristol, the son of neo-conservative doyen Irving Kristol, was just fired by The New York Times.... Nothing illustrated Kristol's influence and importance better than the Times' decision to add him to their Op-Ed page. As his previous stint at Time magazine had already demonstrated, Kristol was a horrible columnist. His writing was boring, he made a lot of factual errors and his point of view was invariably about as surprising as that of a member of Stalin's Politburo. His work was, in the cruel but fair judgment of Salon's Glenn Greenwald, "sloppy, error-plagued and incomparably hackish."

So how did he end up with such a sweet gig? (Especially given that the Times already employed an incomparably more talented conservative columnist in the person of David Brooks.) The answer goes back to Farley's observation about the extreme nepotism of the contemporary right-wing media machine. Kristol may be an utter mediocrity, but he's an extraordinarily well-connected utter mediocrity.... Which brings me to this charming vignette, courtesy of blog commenter Harry Hopkins:

I remember back in the late 1990s, when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture. Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol during the first Bush administration.

The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle's chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon's domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at the White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at Penn and the Kennedy School of Government.

With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. 'I oppose it,' Irving replied. 'It subverts meritocracy.'

Many Republicans today have a different take on the desirability of meritocracy.

Ross Douthat:

Great Power, Great Responsibility: The mistakes that our elites made... also have their roots in flaws that I think are somewhat more particular to this [meritocratic] elite... like an overweening faith in technology's capacity to master contingency, a widespread assumption that the future doesn't have much to learn from the past, and above all a peculiar combination of smartest-guys-in-the-room entitlement (don't worry, we deserve to be moving millions of dollars around on the basis of totally speculative models, because we got really high SAT scores) and ferocious, grasping competitiveness (because making ten million dollars isn't enough if somebody else from your Ivy League class is making more!). It's a combination, at its worst, that marries the kind of vaulting, religion-of-success ambitions (and attendant status anxieties) that you'd expect from a self-made man to the obnoxious entitlement you'd expect from a to-the-manor-born elite--without the sense of proportion and limits, of the possibility of tragedy and the inevitability of human fallibility, that a real self-made man would presumably gain from starting life at the bottom... and without, as well, the sense of history, duty, self-restraint, noblesse oblige and so forth that the old aristocrats were supposed to aspire to...

Noah Millman:

Re-Entering the Palin-Drome: Meritocracy, in practice, means the selection of the “best and the brightest”... by means of testing and scholastic hoop-jumping.... he big problems I have with meritocracy include: that it tells the chosen they are better than other people (in some objective sense), which is an anti-democratic ethos; that it very consciously separates our elite from the people, which isn’t healthy for democracy either; that it separates the elite from “real life” in a way that ill-prepares them for the reality that will inevitably smack them in the head one way or other; and that it selects for particular personality types that, while useful in an elite, need to be balanced with other personality types...

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