The 'New Elite' Is Taking Over, Say Elites

Beware the Mad Men-loving liberals, Charles Murray argues

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Charles Murray set off a firestorm with an essay in The Washington Post arguing that the Tea Party is right—an out-of-touch "New Elite" is taking over the U.S. These elites aren't the dim-witted Wasps of yore; they go to the best universities, win high-powered jobs, and segregate themselves from the rest of us by living in the snobbiest neighborhoods in a few cities. They intermarry, passing along their wealth, privilege, and big-brained DNA onto their kids.

"The more efficiently a society identifies the most able young people of both sexes, sends them to the best colleges, unleashes them into an economy that is tailor-made for people with their abilities and lets proximity take its course, the sooner a New Elite... becomes a class unto itself," Murray writes. "It is by no means a closed club, as Barack Obama's example proves. But the credentials for admission are increasingly held by the children of those who are already members." Murray references several red and blue state cultural touchstones, like Mad Men and ultimate fighting, a brave act considering it not only invites members of each tribe to one-up the author with slightly more relevant pop cultural references, but also inspires a round of mocking from liberal bloggers with assembly-line-working, WWE-loving pasts. "Taken individually, members of the New Elite are isolated from mainstream America as a result of lifestyle choices that are nobody's business but their own. But add them all up, and they mean that the New Elite lives in a world that doesn't intersect with mainstream America in many important ways. When the tea party says the New Elite doesn't get America, there is some truth in the accusation."

  • It's Not that They're Smug. They're Dumb says Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit. "Forget cultural insularity or smugness. The main problem with the 'new elite' is that they’re not an elite at all. That is, they aren’t particularly smart, or competent. They are credentialed, but those credentials aren’t so much markers for smartness or competence, or even basic education, as they are admission tickets to the Gentry Class, based on good standardized test scores. That’s fine—ETS was berry, berry good to me—but it doesn’t have much to do with ability to succeed, or lead, in the real world. Worse yet, it seems to have fostered a sense of entitlement."
  • Why Would There Be More Resentment Now? argues James Joyner at Outside the Beltway. It's easier than ever to climb the social ladder. "Aside from people who are true geniuses, it’s quite unusual to grow up in abject poverty—or even the lower middle class—and navigate the path to the Ivies and truly elite status.  Which means that, no, the playing field isn’t completely level. Still, aside from the most dysfunctional families and circumstances, the road from poverty to a four-year degree from a regional university and admission to the middle class is hardly full of obstacles." Joyner himself has "a foot in both 'Americas'," being the first generation in his family to go to college and having served in the military. But, he says, people from both are "Real Americans." Unfortunately, "a lot of people who’ve lived their whole lives in one or the other seem not to feel that way."
  • Conspicuously Absent from This Analysis: Money "Can you write about class without mentioning money?" David Frum asks. Murray's attempt to define elite status by power instead of money makes for "very, very strange reading," Frum writes. "I wonder if it ever occurs to him that Tim LaHaye – the minister turned author who has sold those 65 million copies of the Left Behind series – might belong to some kind of elite? He has money and power, doesn’t he? (LaHaye played an important role in securing evangelical support for George W. Bush in 2000.) But no: LaHaye is an evangelical Christian and so is by definition excluded. ... Factory floors off limits to the American elite? I have to believe that more than a few members of the Forbes 400 have visited the factories they own. So that disqualifies all of them. As I said: a strange way to think. You can call this kind of analysis many things – but social science sure is not one of them."
  • Murray Is the Snob, aruges the Economist. The thrust of Murray's argument--even if he doesn't know it--is that the Tea Party is fueled by the resentment of Americans who are too dumb to get into the country's best colleges. "Let me put this plainly here, because Mr Murray won't. Attention all tea-partiers: Charles Murray thinks Barack Obama is smart, and you're dumb. ... It is one of the more remarkable aspects of American political culture that Mr Murray's position might be characterised as a "populist" one, while liberal efforts to, say, provide every poor and working-class American with health insurance are seen as elitist and condescending."
  • Because Charles Murray Is the "New Elite" Anne Applebaum writes at PostPartisan. Murray's portrait of this class of people is accurate, even entertaining, but he "makes only one serious error, albeit one that is very interesting: He leaves himself out." He may have been raised in a non-elite family, but since his SAT scores got him into Harvard, Murray's lived exactly the life he describes, spending his career as an academic. "More to the point, he has made a career out of glorifying meritocracy and even defending intellectual snobbery," Applebaum says. "You can choose to live in Virginia instead of Maryland. You can choose to watch NASCAR instead of the World Cup. You can even vote Republican. But when politicians use the words 'Ivy League' as an insult, and when Glenn Beck mocks higher education in general, their targets are people exactly like Charles Murray."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.