by MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It might appear to be an outlandish thesis to claim that national leaders in government and other fields, who arrived at their positions due to an age of meritocracy, could actually prolong inequality in the United States, but Chris Hayes (of MSNBC and The Nation) makes a provocative and persuasive case that this is exactly what is happening.
In some ways, BuzzFlash at Truthout contends, President Obama is the epitome of the new meritocracy. He advanced in academics based on his keen intellect (not affirmative action, but his ability), moving through the top schools of higher education in the US. After editing the Harvard Law Review and eventually moving on to teach at the University of Chicago, he joined the “best and the brightest” in America.
But despite his humble upbringings, his stint as a community organizer, and being black, he ultimately associated himself more with the elite of those who had risen through meritocracy than the struggling Americans facing economic challenges. It’s not to say that Obama doesn’t offer a stark contrast of moving the economy forward through infusing jobs into the working class vs. the same old trickle down economics.
It does, however, mean that Obama is most comfortable governing such policies at a distance from US citizens in need. Hayes’s point is that those who came of age at a time when the best US schools and jobs started admitting people based on their skills instead of their pedigrees, that these individuals are no less immune to distancing themselves as elites from the “average” American.
That may explain why Obama feels closer to Timothy Geithner than to Main Street. The Washington Post reports today that Geithner wanted to resign last year but Obama was so opposed to losing him that he lobbied Geithner’s wife for him to continue in his post:
That problem, among others, scuttled Geithner’s proposed successor. There was another major obstacle: Obama didn’t want him to go. Geithner agreed to stay put, and, to help on the home front, the president talked in person to Geithner’s wife. Obama let Carole Geithner, a social worker and novelist, know that as much as she wanted her husband home for their son’s senior year, the president needed Geithner in Washington.
One commenter on Facebook responding to a review of “Twilight of the Elites” commented that it was a stupid argument because we’ve fought for a system based on merit not family connections. But the problem, Hayes correctly argues, is what happens when the meritocracy becomes just another elite class that pulls the ladder up after they have gotten to the top?
Good point, indeed.