The Golden Age of Political Aristocracy

by: David Sirota

Fri Jan 02, 2009 at 19:04

Aristocracy n

Definition: Government by the best individuals or by a small privileged class.

Though I'm not home in Denver right now, I'm guessing there are many who are fairly to quite mystified by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's (D) selection of Michael Bennet for U.S. Senate. It makes no political or policy sense whatsoever. Indeed, the only thing that rationally explains this individual appointment (as well as the New York appointment and many of Obama's economic/national security cabinet appointments) is the fact that we are living in a Golden Age of American Political Aristocracy.

David Sirota :: The Golden Age of Political Aristocracy
In terms of politics (ie. ability to get reelected in 2010, ability to lift the statewide ticket in 2010, etc.), Bennet makes no sense for reasons that are undeniable: He's A) never run for any office in his life B) never run for - or even held by appointment - a statewide office in Colorado and C) lived in the state of Colorado for barely a decade.

Had any one of these factors not been true - had he, say, lived in Colorado for barely a decade but held office, or say, lived in Colorado all his life building up strong connections in the community - there might be some shred of an argument that he is a good political choice in comparison to other candidates like Ed Perlmutter, Andrew Romanoff, Joan Fitz-Gerald, Diana DeGette or John Hickenlooper. But they are all true. I mean, Bennet is even from Denver - so you can't even make the argument that he's some sort of smart geographic choice designed to appeal to the rest of the state, again - especially when compared to the other Denver-ites (Romanoff, DeGette, Hickenlooper, etc.) who could have been named.

Policy-wise, Bennet has some education experience as head of Denver Public Schools, but his record there is, ahem, mixed, and more importantly, it is incredibly thin when put up against people like Romanoff (the Speaker of the House), Perlmutter (a congressman and former Senate president) and even Hickenlooper (Denver's mayor). Additionally, the policy area he does have significant experience with - education - is a relativcely minor issue at the federal level (for instance, federal funding comprises only about 9 percent of public education - despite the fanfare about No Child Left Behind, states and localities still make the big decisions on public education). It's not that education at the federal level is totally unimportant, it's just comparatively minor. In terms of the really huge issues the Senate will deal with - Iraq, health care, trade, economic stimulus, labor law reform - Bennet is a complete and total blank slate. We know almost nothing about him.

So as I said to start, the only thing that rationally explains his appointment is the emboldened power of political aristocracy (and, by extension, money) that is sweeping the country. By aristocracy, I mean all of the factors of aristocracy implied in its dictionary definition's focus on priviledge. That means not just familial lineage - but also money, inside connections and academic/economic advantage.

Bennet is "heading back to the Beltway" where he grew up "with the Democratic elite," as the headline in the Rocky Mountain News tells us:

MSNBC gives us more on this well-groomed scion of political and academic aristocracy:

Bennet was born in New Delhi, India in 1964. The circumstance of the exotic locale was that his father, Douglas Bennet, was serving as an aide to Chester Bowles, then the U.S. ambassador to India and previously foreign policy aide to President Kennedy.

Bennet grew up in Washington, DC and attended the exclusive all-boys St. Alban's school. He went on to graduate from Wesleyan University, and in between undergraduate school and law school he served as a body man to Ohio governor Dick Celeste. After graduating from Yale Law in 1993, he served in the Clinton administration as counsel to Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, a position that included writing speeches for Attorney General Janet Reno. (emphasis added)

Like a seasoned operative in this Golden Age of Aristocracy, Bennet promptly parlayed all of that into a big-money job for right-wing billionaire Philip Anschutz:

He worked for six years prior to his tenure at the City of Denver as Managing Director for the Anschutz Investment Company in Denver, where he had direct responsibility for the investment of over $500 million. He led the reorganizations of four distressed companies including Forcenergy (which later merged with Denver-based Forest Oil), Regal Cinemas, United Artists and Edwards Theaters, which together required the restructuring of over $3 billion in debt.  Bennet also managed, on behalf of Anschutz, the consolidation of the three theater chains into Regal Entertainment Group, the largest motion picture exhibitor in the world.

Considering his lack of legislative record, lack of experience in any elected or statewide office, and considerable ties to the biggest of big money, it's logical to be concerned about how a Senator Bennet will vote on issues. Off the top of my head, I'm wondering, for instance, whether someone with this kind of resume is going to be in favor of tougher financial industry regulations?*

But I think there should be an even deeper concern about what Bennet's appointment says about the political age we're living in.

Colorado has no dearth of very, very qualified people to be U.S. Senator (especially considering that being a U.S. Senator is one of the easiest jobs in the United States - your major responsibility is to vote yes or no and then be told how awesome you are by the 50 taxpayer-funded sycophants who comprise your personal staff - a lot easier than the average factory job). More specifically, we have a lot of people who have worked very hard passing good public policy and building the grassroots of the Democratic Party for years here (many who are named on the list of aforementioned potential candidates, and which I publicly supported for appointment when hosting the big drive-time radio show here last week). Looking at this bench, and then selecting a person with almost none of those qualities confirms that what gets rewarded in politics today is not legislative accomplishments nor even political ones - what counts is money, inside connections, Ivy League pedigree and a Beltway-padded resume.

Clearly, the same (if not more) can be said of the imminent nomination of Caroline Kennedy to the U.S. Senate in New York - a state which, by virtue of its sheer size, has even more super-qualified candidates, and yet a state which will likely see its senate seat given away to the daughter of a famous politician (by no less than the heir to a local political dynasty!) based almost solely on her last name. And here's the real kicker - whether in Colorado or New York - the subversion of meritocracy and manufacturing of aristocracy counts more today than it has at any time in contemporary history.

Yes, politics is always a battle between meritocratic idealism (ie. good ideas, grassroots work, etc.) and aristocracy (ie. money, insiderism, aristocracy, privilege, etc.). Yes political aristocracy has always existed, even in meritocratic eras. And yes, there are desirable merits to various facets of aristocracy (for example, we should want well-educated people in government). But there have only been a few infamous historical moments where aristocracy has totally, completely and publicly supplanted the desirable non-aristocratic factors of meritocracy to the point where no one's even trying to hide it anymore. One of those infamous moments was the Gilded Age, when billionaires publicly tried to buy U.S. Senate seats. Sadly, the other infamous moment is right now.

What's confusing, of course, is that we just experienced a presidential election that saw the first African American elected to the White House - an election that seemed to reaffirm the meritocratic myth that "anyone can be president" as long as they are qualified. Somehow, we are being simultaneously taught that lesson while also being taught the opposite about U.S. Senate seats.

But, then, Barack Obama's White House appointments over the last few weeks underscore that - his individual election aside - this remains the Golden Age of American Political Aristocracy. In appointing primarily center-right Washington insiders, he makes the Bennet and Kennedy appointments seem mundane - even predictable. When even the first African American president in American history says insider connections, Establishment seals of approval and proximity to money/power - ie. the credentials of Political Aristocracy - should dictate upward mobility, then run-of-the-mill governors from Colorado to New York are probably going to signal the very same thing.

The problem, of course, is the psychological effect on the rest of the country. All of these moves say to America that there is a real bipartisan Ruling Class in this country, and that that Ruling Class is more adept than ever in tightening its grip over the rest of the nation. That's nothing new - most Americans have long known the political system is rigged. But what is new is that the Ruling Class's re-confirmation of its power and control is happening so brazenly and so soon after an election that thematically promised something different.

In the short term, that may only depress the activist class that had momentarily reengaged in politics based on its (all together now!) hope in those promises of change. Prioritizing aristocracy over meritocracy says to everyone from state legislators to campaign volunteers that the way to get ahead in politics is not to spend lots of time, for instance, building your local party or building a grassroots organization, but instead to simply be lucky enough to have been pulled out of the most privileged crotch as a newborn.

But there could also be a long-term effect - especially if the dominance of aristocracy in our government is expressed by either legislative inaction, or legislation designed to protect the aristocracy (the latter which would be unsurprising from aristocratic policymakers). The depressing reality of politics typically perpetuates the constant low-grade disillusionment we've all gotten used to. But when overt in-your-face reminders of that depressing reality (like the Obama Cabinet picks or the Bennet and Kennedy appointments) are dropped into the mass public's frothing stew of economic angst and ginned up "hope," once-surmountable disillusionment can metastasize into demoralization and then into backlash - and specifically, the government-is-evil kind that Ronald Reagan once rode to victory soon after a Democratic landslide.

I'm not, of course, predicting that for 2010 or 2012 - at least not yet. There's the distinct possibility that in spite of the Golden Age of Aristocracy, the government will be forced to take some basic actions to fix major problems afflicting the non-aristocracy. But if you think there's no mass psychological effect of professional politicians - whether Ritter, Paterson, Obama or anyone else - essentially celebrating insiderism, money and aristocracy, there are whole American history books which suggest otherwise.

* I just want to be clear - none of this means that Bennet will end up being a poor political or policy choice. He may end up being a great candidate for reelection and a great senator on policy. My point is simply that knowing what we know right now, on both political and policy grounds, he doesn't even come close to the qualifications of the other potential candidates - that, in short, his appointment is fundamentally about aristocracy.  

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It's "Branding" Too (4.00 / 8)
I'm not taking issue with anything David writes, I just want to add that it's also about "branding" which is mostly an insidious concept, especially as applied to politics.

I'm just back from a visit with family including my 13 year old neice.  She is a normal kid who is often semi-obsessed with different brands, the idea that it is cool to wear clothes that say "Hollister, California" rather than some other brand that was popular back when I was a kid.

This concept has been increasingly extended to politics.  "Kennedy" is a brand -- vote for a Kennedy, any Kennedy, and voters naturally expect a certain kind of politics with some glamor thrown in.  Like a brand, you don't have to compare or even think about it, and Kennedy is going to represent certain values just like voting for the Bush brand will represent something different.  Carnihan in my home state of Missouri is a brand.  Taft is a (damaged) brand in Ohio.  Casey is a brand in Pennsylvania.  Political brands go in and out of favor not unlike soap or frozen dinners.

I think branding sucks, but it is a reality and a foundation of the political aristocracy.

Branding with Kennedy (before my time, but still see it) (4.00 / 1)
I think Sirota nails the CO-Sen.

Also, I can't believe nobody has put the time-line together that all of his work for Anschutz made him enough money to buy the Examiner (of which the DC edition will be opposed to everything Bennet should support).

In other news, for xmas I scored a black Puma hoodie which I'm hoping it will be cold enough to wear in Pittsburgh next summer as a statement against those who resent overcoming entitlement.  

On twitter: @BobBrigham

[ Parent ]
Obama's 80% approval rating (0.00 / 0)
And his 90%+ support of democrats regarding his cabinet picks shows you are wrong about a deep disillusionment within his supporters about his cabinet picks. in fact if you don't like his picks you are probably in mix of the 20% bush supporters who cling  to their hate. not a good crowd to belong too imo , heh.


What will disillusion activists,obama supporters and majority of the Americans will be if he cant keep to most of his promises or that the situation for middle class doesn't change in the next two years or so. The support he has now is more than any president elect in 3 decades so he has ways to go to lose his majority support.

P.S. I am glad Caroline is going to be chosen, it would be foolish of Patterson to snub obama seeing he was not even elected himself and needs a lot of help for NY. She is as qualified for senate as Obama is for president IMO.

Carter (4.00 / 10)
Jimmy Carter - as I noted in the post - was wildly popular after getting elected. He also had even bigger Democratic majorities. I'm not saying that Obama is Jimmy Carter, only that to simply try to deflect from this post by screaming "OBAMA IS POPULAR" is to ignore the basic history that shows how silly such a clarion call is.

[ Parent ]
You are implying in your post (0.00 / 0)
His supporters (or significant pars of them) are ALREADY disillusioned and disprove of his cabinet picks. that is not in fact true at all based on all the polls. he can very well loss them if he blows the next two to four years (Carter did) but that hasn't happened yet.

But, then, Barack Obama's White House appointments over the last few weeks underscore that - his individual election aside - this remains the Golden Age of American Political Aristocracy. In appointing primarily center-right Washington insiders, he makes the Bennet and Kennedy appointments seem mundane - even predictable. When even the first African American president in American history says insider connections, Establishment seals of approval and proximity to money/power - ie. the credentials of Political Aristocracy - should dictate upward mobility, then run-of-the-mill governors from Colorado to New York are probably going to signal the very same thing.

The problem, of course, is the psychological effect on the rest of the country. All of these moves say to America that there is a real bipartisan Ruling Class in this country, and that that Ruling Class is more adept than ever in tightening its grip over the rest of the nation. That's nothing new - most Americans have long known the political system is rigged. But what is new is that the Ruling Class's re-confirmation of its power and control is happening so brazenly and so soon after an election that thematically promised something different.

In the short term, that may only depress the activist class that had momentarily reengaged in politics based on its (all together now!) hope in those promises of change. Prioritizing aristocracy over meritocracy says to everyone from state legislators to campaign volunteers that the way to get ahead in politics is not to spend lots of time, for instance, building your local party or building a grassroots organization, but instead to simply be lucky enough to have been pulled out of the most privileged crotch as a newborn.

[ Parent ]
"May" (4.00 / 3)
In the short term, that may only depress the activist class that had momentarily reengaged in politics based on its (all together now!) hope in those promises of change.

The notion of approval/disapproval isn't mentioned at all, and the point about the activist class is couched as a potential.

Also, it's important to separate the notions of popularity and engagement. People may very well approve of a system which relieves them of agency. Happy and disengaged are not really counters, and indeed often come together (as in ignorance and bliss).

Me | My Work | Future Majority

[ Parent ]
That is an insult to Barack Obama (4.00 / 1)
Barack Obama had been involved in community and political work for a long time even before he ran for president.  He got elected .....more than the State Senate, the US Senate and he ran a presidential campaign for almost 2 years.

And I supported the other candidate in the process.  This is an insult to anyone who is "foolish" enough to actually think being elected by people is important gauge of one's abilty to serve in public office.

And it's an assault on the idea elections are one of the jewels of representative democracy.  

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

[ Parent ]
it is not an insult. (0.00 / 0)
Because the same arguments being used against Caroline were being extensively used against obama. The facts might have differed because obama clearly has more experience but the arguments are the same.

My point is that the experience card is overused and pointless in some cases.

[ Parent ]
This is a ridiculous defense (4.00 / 1)
The analogy holds except the significant comparisons are completely different!!

Yes it's all the same, except everything is different!!!

This would not make SAT 101 analogies.  

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

[ Parent ]
But Obama had to win elections (4.00 / 2)
and, in fact, had won election to the Illinois state senate and the US Senate before running for President.  

Obama had a record in public life.  Caroline has virtually none, and absolutely none as a legislator or executive.

Obama had to make his case to hundreds of thousands of voters, then millions of voters, that he was qualified.  Caroline Kennedy has had to make her case to one person.  I don't think it's the same thing at all.

[ Parent ]
Interesting definition of "aristocracy" (4.00 / 1)
Let me get this straight.

He's an "aristocrat" because:

-he attended an elite private school
-his father worked for Kennedy  
-he grew up in D.C.
-he attended an Ivy league law school
-he worked in the Clinton administration
-he had a role managing investments.

If that makes one an aristocrat, then I am not concerned with the label.

I also think you're minimizing the relevance of his experience (and reputation) dealing with education.

He's not necessarily an aristocrat (4.00 / 10)
In himself.  But this is evidence of a growing aristocratic tradition in America.  

People are regularly getting senate seats for aristocratic rather than meritocratic reasons.  I share David's alarm over this.

[ Parent ]
Um, yes (4.00 / 2)
Yes, I'd say that other the last one you cite, those bullet points qualify as basic Political Aristocracy, yes. That last one is an additional qualification for Economic Aristocracy. Now, you may not be bothered by that - and as I said in the post, there are some good sides to that. But the fact that those factors seem now to totally and completely dominate other non-aristocratic factors of a meritocracy - well, I think that's a big problem.  

[ Parent ]
If that's aristocracy, then I'd argue it's nothing new (0.00 / 0)
I guess this point would be hard to prove one way or the other, but this kind of emphasis on what you consider to be aristocratic factors just doesn't seem to me to be new, or new in terms of scale.

In other words, I think those factors are no more dominant today than ever.  But again, I don't know how to begin making an historical comparison.

[ Parent ]
Well (0.00 / 0)
I think when it becomes the sole deciding factor in a rash of major Senate/Cabinet appointments, it's expressing itself in a way that is historically very rare.

[ Parent ]
answer (0.00 / 0)
there should not be Senate appointments.  This type of thing will always happen when one man or woman is empowered instead of an electorate.

Insert shameless blog promotion here.

[ Parent ]
Not necessarily new (4.00 / 9)
I don't think it's very new -- I mean, the "best and brightest" was all about elitism -- but it is a little disappointing vis-a-vis the empowering rhetoric and message of the BO campaign. I'm not at all surprised, but it's still a bit of a downer.

I also think we have a difference these days in that:

1) We're back to gilded-age levels of economic inequality, which makes this kind of thing more creepy and unfair.

2) The existing power-elite/establishment is, well, totally ineffective and manifestly failing. I don't know much about Caroline Kennedy or Michael Bennet, but my strong guess is they're not really going to bring a huge amount of fresh ideas and energy to the table...

So, it's a missed opportunity at least, or possibly the continuation of a growing meta-trend in American life (imperial presidency, wealth inequality, self-referential mass media) that's not all that encouraging.

Me | My Work | Future Majority

[ Parent ]
Attending a top university (0.00 / 0)
is aristocratic?  Our system of higher education is far from perfect, but thousands of students, myself included, have worked out behinds off to earn admission into the Ivies and other prestigious schools.  I was born in the inner-city, come from a working class family, and have student loans up to my ears.  Please, your claim is nothing short of insulting.

Netroots for Gore

[ Parent ]
Getting there from St. Albans (4.00 / 2)
which he attended as the son of an aide in the Kennedy administration, is hardly pulling himself up by his own bootstraps.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, (0.00 / 0)
I worry about the intent of the "aristocratic" comments. I resent when there are officials who are handed their positions because their wealthy, connected family got them into Ivy League schools, they scraped by, and then were handed plum jobs. It's truly disgusting. However, I think it would be a major mistake to write off people simply because their father was connected and they went to a good school.

Other than David making some vague allusion that his work in the Denver school district wasn't up to progressive par (and I have no idea of his record), nobody has provided any evidence that this guy isn't as worthy as the next senator-wannabe. It sucks that we have to have appointments, but we're always going to have unexpected vacancies, and elections aren't cheap.

[ Parent ]
It's at best neutral (0.00 / 0)
I went to a great school. It was disappointed if our A-level results weren't the best from a state school in the country. It competed with the most prestigious private schools, with budgets per student dwarfing it, and frequently came out on top.

With that in mind, it's less impressive that I made it into Cambridge University than it would be if I were black and from a run-down inner-city school.

My educational record doesn't necessarily make me an aristocrat, but it's fiarly congruent with it (except that my parents had the good luck that the school was not private) and does nothing to disprove such accusations.

There's no evidence that Bennet has pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, and plenty that circumstances of birth helps him. He may still be brilliant - John Maynard Keynes was hardly from the working class and he was fantastically intelligent even by the standards of his over-achieving family - but his background is that of the financial and social elite.

He's an aristocrat. It's just that he may be a very smart aristocrat.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
His father didn't work for Kennedy (4.00 / 2)
His father served as an aid to Chester Bowles, who was an Ambassador who had previously served as a foreign policy aid to Kennedy.

I don't know a lot about Bennet but I think it a little bit of a stretch to call him "political aristocracy"

Just doing a quick search, it seems like his father worked his way up through public service, jumping back and forth between the legislative and executive branches.

Here's a press release naming him head of USAID in 1979

From 1963 to 1964, he was assistant to the Economic Advisor of AID. Bennet was special assistant to the Ambassador to India from 1964 to 1966. From 1967 to 1969, he was an assistant to Vice President Hubert Humphrey. He was administrative assistant to Senator Thomas Eagleton 1969 to 1973 and also held the same position on Senator Abraham Ribicoff's staff from 1973 to 1974. From 1974 to 1977, he was staff director for the Senate Budget Committee. Since 1977 he has been Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations.

Its also not as if Bennet has no political or government experience. In fact, it seems as though he has worked in every branch of government and at every level. He served as a page on Capital Hill in High School. Out of college, he spent a year on a public affairs scholarship studying city government in New York. He then served as personal assistant to Democratic Governor Dick Celeste of Ohio before going to Yale Law School and serving as the editor of the Yale Law Journal. He clerked for a federal appeals court judge in Baltimore and served as counsel to the Deputy U.S. Attorney General. He then worked as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney before moving to Colorado. He worked on several major deals for Anschutz in the business world and made a lot of money and then served as Chief of Staff for Hickenlooper before becoming Superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

Indeed, it seems like he has quite a resume, though no elected political experience. Sure he has been fortunate to have a well-connected father that helped him obtain some valuable experience early in his life but I would hardly call him an aristocrat for that.

"Never separate the life you live from the words you speak" -Paul Wellstone

[ Parent ]
Bennet (0.00 / 0)
is actually as aristocratic as they come. Sirota's list doesn't do it justice at all. He comes from old Eastern money and has spent his career following the old call to "noblesse oblige." He's also a terric, warm guy who might well make a great Senator. Certainly a different kind of one, that's for sure.

[ Parent ]
Chester Bowles, St. Albans And Anschutz. You Can't Make This Stuff Up (4.00 / 3)
Or, rather, if you did, you'd be rightly accused of laying it on too thick.

Anschutz is particularly hated in my neck of the woods (Los Angeles Harbor Area), btw.  His anti-union politics are very well known.

Anybody even think to ask this joker about EFCA?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

re: EFCA (4.00 / 1)
That's what scares me. It's a positive that he worked with Celeste in Ohio. But I haven't seen much in his record (and what David writes only underscores that) that indicates he can empathize with workers and sees how current labor law is stacked against them. We shall see I guess. Depends on if he wants to run for a full term in 2010 I suppose.  

[ Parent ]
I'm not too worried (4.00 / 1)
he's 44. He wouldn't have taken this if he wasn't going to run for re-election or at least try.

I'm sure Ed Perlmutter or some of the other candidates still wouldn't mind being Senator and if he votes against EFCA union priority number one will be defeating him, he's not that stupid.  

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

[ Parent ]
good reasoning (0.00 / 0)
sounds about right.

[ Parent ]
what upsets me (4.00 / 1)
is that a non-aristocratic appointment like Burris is going to face serious challenges to his legitimacy, while Kennedy or Bennet are welcomed with open arms despite having none of the elected experience that he has.

Please... (4.00 / 1)
This is inane. Whatever opinion you may have of the Senate's bellicosity towards Burris, it's silly to pretend that his lack of "aristocraticness" is what separates him from Kennedy, Bennet, and Kaufman.  

[ Parent ]
Thank you David (0.00 / 0)
Do we know anything about this guy's positions on EFCA, the Obama stimulus, preservation of public lands, re-regulation of the financial sector, the auto industry rescue, or any one of the three wars the US is currently engaged in or funding?

Do we know he's a Democrat?

I think the choice of an education technocrat is one of the worst copouts I've ever seen a sitting governor make.  Now, if David Paterson chooses Bill Clinton, I stand corrected.

Yes, he's definitely a Democrat (0.00 / 0)
The rest I can't help you with, except that his wife is an environmental attorney and the only candidate they supported financially in 2008, other than Obama, was an environmentalist running for Congress.

[ Parent ]
Interesting Post, David (4.00 / 1)
The specific issue comes from the fact that we have such a slim record on Bennet. I'm willing to acknowledge that he could be an effective, qualified Senator, and success at managing Denver's board of education is not small potatoes. But, as David says, we just don't know much about him, and the appointment certainly comes from way inside in terms of networks and connections.

As for the more general political aristocracy issue.

Pretty much all of the other mentioned candidates came from inside the Colorado state Democratic Party establishment. Hickenlooper was the least establishment because he came straight from business to mayor. (Due to some personal encounters I believe he is actually quite progressive.) The best you can say is that they are reasonably competent politicians who are moderately liberal, but their history wouldn't indicate them to be strong liberal leaders. There isn't a Bernie Sanders or Paul Wellstone among them. Now, that may be a result of Colorado's Red moving to Purple history, but frankly, Colorado's Democratic establishment is way to the right of the party base.

So, I'm not sure that picking a political outsider (aristocratic as he might be) is worse than going with an Party insider who has already conformed to expectations.  

For two years, we measured political success largely (4.00 / 1)
by the amount of money a candidate raised. Or at least the media did. We should not be surprised that connections and socioeconomic advantage (which translate quite nicely into excellent fundraising lists) are treated as qualifications for the U.S. Senate.  

You pose a persuasive argument (0.00 / 0)
that has been reinforced by what has been posted on OpenLeft about the Centralization of Governing Authority on the Presidency.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

Willful blindness (4.00 / 2)
Considering how smacked down Al Gore got because of his "Ritz" hotel room (which wasn't quite the Ritz in those days) and how his real farm experience was laughed away, yes, it pisses me off.

We've got enough Blue Dog Democrats. A daring choice might be to find someone without a name who'd been working hard on good issues but hadn't taken the time to build up money or high-level political connections. Like the guys who set up OpenLeft, for example.  (By the way, are there any women around here?)

You mean a regular person who is smart and (0.00 / 0)
cares deeply about people and democracy instead of money and power?  Nah, never happen.  

[ Parent ]
You betcha (0.00 / 0)
What we need are more non-aristocrats like Sarah Palin!

Seriously David, of course our elected leaders are going to come from fancy school educated, wealthy individuals. You can dislike it, but people from those groups are the only ones who are going to be known by enough people to get the job.

I don't think this accusation is falsifyable. I would love to hear the profile of someone who is not an aristocrat, or conversely, why it is ok to be an aristocrat as long as said aristocrat is doing things you like. At the end of the day, it's the policies the person supports that matters, not the person's background. and there are plenty of "aristocrats" who are willing and able to be good progressives. Or do Teddy Kennedy, Russ Feingold (Rhodes Scholar), and for that matter, FDR, have to sit outside the "good enough" circle as well?

Also, it seems that as long as Democrats are elected president, they seem to come from pretty inspiring, non-aristocratic backgrounds...

Repubs too (0.00 / 0)
For that matter, Republican presidents not named Bush have also been quite non-aristocratic.

Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, & Dole all came from middle class or lower middle class families. Only the Bushes and Goldwater were wealthy, and Goldwater's family was new money derived from opening a successful department store in Arizona Territory. Not exactly the aristocracy.

You can say "but they all had money when elected, and in America only people with money or power can get elected." And that's true. But it's a totally empty complaint. I cannot conceive of a political system where some hard working, smart, but unknown bureaucrat or nonprofit manager is going to get  appointed.

That definition of aristocracy is just silly. By definition, a limited set of people are qualified to run the government, and so we will be run by a limited class of people. But saying America is governed (1) exclusively (2) by a limited socio-economic class of people is just flat out wrong. Many,  many senators and congressman, and presidents, derive from families that were not rich, even if those politicians become rich over their lifetime. It is absolutely false to say that America is run by an exclusively aristocratic group of people.

[ Parent ]
Confused... (4.00 / 1)
"Seriously David, of course our elected leaders are going to come from fancy school educated, wealthy individuals."

Uhmm... he's specifically talking about an appointed Senate seat. Not that I necessarily agree with the rest of your comment, but by your own logic, wouldn't it make even more sense to use an appointment to break that mold?

They call me Clem, Clem Guttata. Come visit wild, wonderful West Virginia Blue

[ Parent ]
Kinda backwards (0.00 / 0)
Well, I guess we could use the appointment process to deviate from what is normally accomplished via democracy. But everybody these days (and I agree with them) is arguing about  how special elections would be good and appointments are bad. It seems weird to be in a position of arguing that a benefit of the appointment process is so that we can deviate from the democratic norm.

[ Parent ]
Comparison (4.00 / 2)
I looked at the Senators elcted in 1958 and those elected 50 years later in 2008.

Ivy League graduates: There were seven in 1958 and seven in 2008.  One of the 1958 Senators dropped out of an Ivy League school (the University of Pennsylvania) for money reasons and later graduated from a non-Ivy School.  Two of the 2008 Senators graduated from non-Ivy schools of similar prestige (Stanford, Cambridge); none of the 1958 Senators fit that bill.

Prior elected office:  In each case, 30 of the Senators held elected office.  The number in 1958 may have been artificially reduced becaus Alaska'a two Senators held a loing series of appointive positions within the then territory of Alaska.

What is interesting is that 5 of the 7 Ivy grads in 1958 were Democrats and all 7 in 2008.

Two Senators from 1958 were Ivy grads with no elected experience (Ernest Greunung and Stuart Symington).  Greuning held over 30 years of appointive positions in Alaska including Territorial Governor.  Symington was a Missouri business man who served through the entire Truman administation (1945-53) in appointive posts particularly Secretary of the Air Force.

Two Senators from 2008 fit the bill as Ivy grads with no elected experience prior to the Senate: Al Franken (looks like) and Frank Lautenberg.  Lautenberg made a huge private fortune, of course, before entering politics.

Given the large number of Ivy grads in the House, I was rather surprised at the results.

For the record, the seven Ivy grads from 1958 were Ernest Greuning, Thomas Dodd, Ed Muskie, John kennedy, Kenneth Keating and William Langer.  The seven Ivy grads from 2008 are John Kerry, Carl Levin, Al Franken, Frank Lautenberg, Jack Reed, Mark Warner, and Jay Rockefeller.

See Colorado Pols for a good discussion (4.00 / 2)
Colorado Pols is pretty "up" on the local gossip. Often, their commentary is approximately on target; always, their commentary is interesting.

Ohwilleke is one of the smarter and knowledg-er observers of Colorado politics. This posting of his is pretty astute:

"The Economy Stupid?"

One motive for Ritter's appointment may be that he sees restructuring failed enterprises as the number one issue facing the U.S. Senate right now, and sees Bennet as the man with deep and proven credentials in that department.

This may be more about GM, Chrysler, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG and failed banks than it is about more ordinary politics.

When companies are failing left and right, why not appoint a turnaround expert?

Bennet is getting compliments from both Jared Polis (CO-02) and ProgressNow. These are not establishment sources. Jared is the outsider who recently won a primary over insider (and experienced, establishment liberal) Joan Fitzgerald. ProgressNow is a gadfly and guerilla theater left-progressive organization. I have no personal information on Bennet, but these are important endorsements if you are a progressive.

Be sure to read the ColoradoPols thread (0.00 / 0)
Lots of good points made at the ColoradoPols diary linked above. The testimonials from commentators I respect are running in favor of Bennet. (These include: Ohwillike, PhoenixRising,  DavidThi808, ColoradoPols - presumably Jason Bane).

Bennet is sort of the anti-Ken Salazar. Ken was extremely knowledgeable about rural Colorado issues like water and natural resources. Native to the SW part of the state, environmental lawyer, etc. Bennet doesn't really have Colorado state-wide issue credentials or experience. Instead he brings education management, Labor relations experience, and a business perspective. (I may be lefty, but I do appreciate practical, business sense). If Bennet is wealthy or "aristocratic", well, I do respect his willingness to serve as a public servant. (Mayor Hickenlooper isn't exactly salt of the earth, either, and he was the great progressive hope.).

Here is another interesting comment from Ohwillike (a Denver lawyer who has worked a lot with legislative issues.):

Bennet has described himself on the record in an interview with a Denver Post reporter for a profile as a lifelong Democrat, a self-described liberal and a supporter of civil rights.  I'm pretty sure he's more liberal than Ken Salazar, who was one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate.

Hell, it is hard enough to find anyone running for office on a Democratic ticket who will admit to either being a Democrat or to being a liberal in campaign literature.

[ Parent ]
Taint that a shame? (0.00 / 0)
Certainly the Kennedy thing cannot come as a surprise. She joined the Obama coronation during the Democratic primaries. I was attending a "primary" party, and people were literally crying as she spoke. I thought I had fallen into some bizarre X-Files episode.

Anyway, since Reid argues that "taint" can disqualify Burris, I wonder if someone will make the same argument about Kennedy.  Reid is prepared to exclude Burris based on unproven allegations of wrongdoing by Blagojevich -- but something "smells" funny with the Kennedy pick too. As you noted, there are many talented and experienced folks in NY. But they did not have Obama call Paterson for them.  I'm sure he was told how if he helped out Kennedy, then both Kennedy and Obama would launch him to stardome. Is this materially different from Blagojevich?

Do Nepotism, Wealth and Dynastic Power "Taint" Kennedy's Likely Senate Appointment? Taking Reid's Arguments Where He Wouldn't Want Them to Go

Yes. No money was involved. (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
One further point worth mentioning (0.00 / 0)
that shows our devolvement into an effective aristocracy is the death of campaign finance reform.

From here on out, who is going to push for such reform? Not the Republicans, who understand the long term advantages an unimpeded flow of money affords their interests. And, now, not from the Democrats, who have no moral standing from which to push for it, given that Obama turned his back on public financing. How will they justify such a push when they spurned it when it suited their convenience.

As Gore Vidal famously said, there's only one party in the United States, the Property Party.

The Talented Tenth (0.00 / 0)
It can easily be argued that Obama is a member of the talented tenth which in itself is a form of aristocracy -- though it does have its basis in merit.

But that meritocratic basis flows through the Ivy League.  

If Obama had done his undergrad work at a state school like Hawaii, Kansas or Illinois and had a law degree from Cal's Boalt Hall or from Michigan would the doors have opened so fast from him?

things wont change until... (0.00 / 0)
David, my brother has a theory that takes another perspective. While it seems that the nation is fed up with the same old shady politicians, yet they continue to get elected, at the same time they have record low public approval ratings. Its almost like the twilight zone.

My brother believes that we can never change the system by voting in new, different people. And that we must all change as individuals, we must be the change we would like to see. Until that happens the same type of crooks with be pulled to washington, like magnets, until we change the polarity of the country on an individual level.

You know that idea that the universe gives us what we ask for, well i didnt ask to be overweight but right now i am, so for some reason the universe deems it necessary for me to go through this right now. Same with politics. Maybe on an individual level we act just like these aristocratic class you speak of. maybe you and me and some of your readers dont, but the nation on the whole.

Its also like terrorism. Is terrorism the problem, or the symptom of a larger problem. Is the corrupt aristocratic class the problem or the symptom of a larger issue.

Just another view

whatever you think people owe you, that is what you owe people

I Have Been Debating This And (0.00 / 0)
I think to call Bennet aristocracy is a little ridiculous.  Kennedy clearly is.  Her father was President, her Uncles were Senators and her cousins have served in the House.  Bennet's father was a sub-sub cabinet member.  I lived in DC for 13 years worked on the Hill for 8+ of them and I never, ever heard the guys name.  Bennet's father seems to have been a talented public servant who rose to run US AID and to be a high level State Dept official.  He was not Clark Clifford or Vernon Jordon or Tommy Boggs or any of the other power players in DC.

I also don't think that your father having served in govt or politics should somehow disqualify you from also serving.   I say this as someone who grew-up in politics in NYC and my dad was actually a pretty big deal locally and was close to both Mayor Ed Koch and Gov Hugh Carey when I was a kid.  I was interested in politics but I hated being identified as my father's son. I wanted to be known for my own accomplishments.  

So I decided to make it on my own, got an internship through my school first in the state legislature and then in Congress which led to my first job in DC for a Congressman from rural Virginia.  No one knew my dad in DC which I loved and I was able to build my own name through my own accomplishments.

I tell this story b/c I have no idea about how Michael Bennet got his jobs but don't assume b/c his father had a couple of sub-sub cabinet positions everything the guy has accomplished has to do with family connections.  It is entirely possible that he did a lot of things on his own.

One other thought David - if you have a kid someday and they decide to follow in your footsteps, attend a prestiguous university, work on the Hill, maybe become an elected official, does that make them aristocracy since their father is a prominent writer, blogger, commentator?  Something to think about.


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