Saturday, December 06, 2008

The formation of aristocracy

This post by Driftglass is the best thing of its sort I have ever read, except perhaps for some of Phil Paine's better essays.

Someone asked Drifty (to rephrase the actual comment) why his excellent scathing analysis got so little attention when others of less talent and penetration were now on TV, even. Here is an excerpt from his reply:

Well, by way of an answer, let us remember what Jebus Himself said:

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name,
there will be a velvet rope to keep the rabble away from the cool kids.”

In all human activities, there is a velvet rope; those on the sunny side of it sometimes relish it, sometimes try to kick it down, and sometimes believe it is porous or even imaginary; those on the cold side of it know that it is as real and high and hard and topped with broken glass as any security wall girding a Mexican estate.

Sometimes the velvet rope has a sign hanging from it advising those who seek admittance that they need only work a little bit harder. A little bit longer. A little better.

A little smarter.

A little sexier.

Shinier. Sparklier.

A little more topical.

A little more scholarly.

A little less snooty.

A little to the left and a skosh to the right.

Those on the cold side of it know that this ain’t exactly 100% true.

“Better, smarter, abler” is awesome -- it can get you a guest pass to the bar and once in a great while a key to the kingdom -- but there are way, waaaay too many mopes and nitwits waved right on in as their betters dance their asses off in the foyer, year after year, to pretend that competence in any way correlates to success.

It took toxic decades of Hate Radio and Fox Network junk food to create a public desperately hungry enough for honesty and intelligence to allow a “Daily Show” or “Colbert Report” to flourish not merely as great comedy, but as the Reality Based Community’s de facto teevee news and opinion HQs.

It took the collapse of the global economy, the shredding of the Constitution and a failure in Two!Count!Em!Two! wars after eight, solid years of unrelenting, daily, epic fuckuppery by an Administration of openly sneering idiots and traitors, before Americans reluctantly sent the Party of “I Wanna Haz A Beer With You!” packing and took a hopeful flier on the Smart Guys.

As Glenn Greenwald eloquently notes here, it is a trait that runs through every institution that traffics in influence and power:

Leading candidates for [Hillary Clinton's Senate seat] seat still include John F. Kennedy's daughter (Caroline), Robert Kennedy's son (RFK, Jr.), and Mario Cuomo's son (Andrew). In Illinois, a leading contender to replace Barack Obama in the Senate is Jesse Jackson's son (Jesse, Jr.). In Delaware, it was widely speculated that Joe Biden would be replaced by his son, Beau, and after Beau took his name out of the running because he's now serving in Iraq, the naming of the actual replacement -- lone-time (Joe) Biden aide Ted Kaufmann -- "upset local Democrats who believe the move was a ham-handed attempt to engineer the election of Biden’s son, Beau, to the Senate in 2010."

Meanwhile, in Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed by her father to take his seat in the U.S. Senate when he became Governor, yesterday warned Sarah Palin not to challenge her in a 2010 primary, a by-product of tension between those two as a result of Palin's defeat of Lisa's dad for Governor. In Florida, Mel Martinez's announcement that he won't seek re-election in 2010 immediately led to reports that the current President's brother, Jeb, might run for that seat. And all of that's just from the last couple of weeks.

The Senate alone -- to say nothing of the House -- is literally filled with people whose fathers or other close relatives previously held their seat or similar high office (those links identify at least 15 current U.S. Senators -- 15 -- with immediate family members who previously occupied high elected office). And, of course, the current President on his way out was the son of a former President and grandson of a former U.S. Senator.

Isn't this all a bit much? It's true that our political/media class in general is intensely incestuous and nepotistic. Virtually the entire neoconservative "intelligentsia" (using that term as loosely as it can possibly be used) is one big paean to nepotistic succession -- the Kristols, the Kagans, the Podhoretzes, Lucinanne Goldberg and her boy. Upon Tim Russert's death, NBC News excitedly hired his son, Luke. Mike Wallace's son hosts Fox's Sunday show. The most influential political opinion space in the country, The New York Times Op-Ed page, is, like the Times itself, teeming with family successions and connections. Inter-marriages between and among media stars and political figures -- and lobbyists, operatives and powerful political officials -- are now more common than arranged royal marriages were among 16th Century European monarchs.

Because at the heart of any human enterprise, there is a club, and “better, smarter, abler” alone rarely gets you in it.

Image: A recent edition of the Almanach de Gotha, traditional listing of aristocratic claims.

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