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Is An Ivy League Education Really Important?

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During the general elections, we focus on the most trivial questions possible. Perhaps they are easier to comprehend. Governor Palin has religious convictions against abortion, Senator Obama takes a different view. We can all understand that, and agree or disagree; even though their personal views on abortion are unlikely to make any difference, we mistakenly believe that they will. The Democrats and the Republicans have (marginally) different views on health care, the economy, Iraq, drilling for oil, taxation, and a few other issues. We may not (and probably don't) understand the differences, but like to think that we do. We really like to have opinions, but understanding what is going on is, well, rather burdensome.

In this article, I will address one of the more trivial issues of the campaign: the formal education of the candidates, particularly Senator Obama and Governor Palin. I see little hope of laying to rest this non-issue, because it has assumed too much significance for that to happen. Most of us assume that an Ivy League education is per se far superior to an education at a lesser institution of "higher learning," I disagree.

I was sufficiently fortunate to have been graduated from a well regarded Ivy League university and a good law school. I did well and am proud of it. I am very grateful to my parents for making these things possible. I was lucky in this and in other respects.

Having been graduated from college in 1963 and from law school in 1966, a long time ago, I can't comment based on personal experience upon the alleged leftist tendency in current higher education. I have read that it exists, but don't really know.

What do, and what should, these things independently mean in the post election political arena? Very little. They should have comparable significance in the pre-election arena. Do they have much significance in one's understanding of life, the universe and everything? No. There is an old saw,

You can send a fool to college
But you can't make him think.
You can lead a horse to water
But you can't make him drink.

Do educational accomplishments suggest a better world view, or better preparation to answer the important questions which affect the survival of our society? Occasionally perhaps, but not necessarily. Do folks who did not attend top universities fare worse? Occasionally perhaps, but not necessarily. Does the fact that Senator Obama was the President (or Editor in Chief, depending on the source of information) of the Harvard Law Review mean much? He is said to have been a good leader there, although he is credited with only one comment, unsigned and unattributed, until recently. The lack of attribution is not unusual, since most short student comments are unattributed. That there was only one is rather unusual, since most Law Review members author more than one. I wrote about a dozen. Does that make a difference? I don't think so. Does the fact that President Bush did marginally better at Yale than did Senator Kerry (neither excelled)? Does the fact that Governor Palin finally got a BS degree from the University of Idaho after attending other colleges make a difference in her qualifications to become the Vice President? Or President? Does the fact that Senator McCain was graduated fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy mean much? No, I don't think so. President Truman didn't have a stellar educational background — he never even got a college degree — and he did quite well as President of the United States during one of her most difficult periods. Although kept very much out of the loop by FDR until the latter's death, Truman became, in my view, one of our very best presidents. Were he alive and in good health now, I would vote for him in a heart beat. He had good, common "horse sense," and his lack of a college degree didn't cause the United States, or President Truman, any memorable difficulties. President Wilson who, before becoming the President of the United States had been the President of Princeton University was, in my opinion, one of the worst; President Carter (59th out of his Naval Academy class of 820) was, in my view, less than exemplary as well. TR, who was something of an "elitist" when at Harvard University, nevertheless did quite well as a "populist" President. As I noted in a previous article,

TR was no egalitarian; At Harvard, he became quite “foppish.” He was of the elite, he knew it, and so did everyone who knew him. In his senior year he wrote to his sister, “I stand 19th in the class . . . Only one gentleman stands ahead of me.” Harvard was, of course, not [then] coeducational.

After being admitted to at least some of the very prestigious universities, it takes a bit of effort not to receive a degree. That was the case at the university which I attended, where relatively few freshmen failed to get through four years and to receive a degree. Many other schools tend to accept far more applicants than will ultimately be graduated. I offer no opinion on which is the better admissions philosophy, only the caution that acceptance by and "success" at some of the better universities are not necessarily indicative of diligent effort, profound understanding or much of anything else truly useful in a President. Somehow, I doubt that having received a baccalaureate degree from Harvard, Yale, Princeton or another of the Ivy League schools would much impress, for example, Mr. Putin. Being among those who manage to get through four years at, and to receive a degree from, a less selective school may conceivably be more significant — particularly if one has to hold down a job to finance one's own education. Of course, that probably wouldn't much impress Mr. Putin either.

I am currently reading a book by Eugene Franklin Clark, U.S.N., who became a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. He didn't complete high school, but achieved the highest enlisted rank. Based upon his service in WWII, he was commissioned and rose to the giddy rank of lieutenant (two bars, comparable to an Army, Air Force or Marine captain); he retired with the rank of Commander, the equivalent of a Lieutenant Colonel in the other services. As a Lieutenant, he led much of the on-site reconnaissance for General MacArthur's ultimately very successful, but initially very chancy, invasion of Inchon during the Korean war by investigating the several islands in the Flying Fish Channel and obtaining information on the Inchon landing site, where the mud flats and thirty foot tidal variations presented very difficult logistical problems. Lt. Clark had somehow developed an exceptionally good understanding of the people with whom he had to deal, with the difficulties he and they faced, and with the need for accurate information. Would a top graduate of the Naval Academy have done a better job? We will never know. Without the work which Commander Clark accomplished, the Inchon invasion would, in my opinion, have been doomed to abject failure.

 I consider the highly successful Inchon campaign to be the high point of General MacArthur's very excellent military career. It went dramatically down-hill a few months later, with the retreat from the Yalu; egregiously poor intelligence gathering and analysis became his downfall. Excessive elation at his remarkable (and widely unanticipated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington) success at Inchon probably contributed to his already ample hubris, and therefore to his subsequent failure. General MacArthur was graduated first in his West Point class of ninety-three. Is Commander Clark's book a literary masterpiece? Hardly. It is rather pedestrian. Does it get his points across well? Yes.

Another former enlisted man, Grayston Lynch (1923 – 2008) attained the rank of Captain in the Army and retired in that lowly grade to join the CIA. He was instrumental in preparing for, and was on the ground with, the Bay of Pigs invasion during JFK's presidency. Despite lack of an Ivy League education (BA, economics, University of Maryland in 1950), he was a lot smarter than either JFK or RFK in anticipating the consequences of rheir decisions (and indecisions) concerning the course to be followed.

Education is a wonderful thing, and is very important. I can generally figure out how to use singular nouns with singular verbs, and plural nouns with plural verbs, and occasionally use the rather archaic subjunctive. I know quite a few "two bit" words, and sometimes use them rather than "two cent" words. Probably, I should more often refrain   from doing so. Were I to require surgery, I would select a surgeon who had done well in medical school and who had demonstrated substantial competence thereafter.

Being "smart," "clever," and "decisive" have little to do with having been graduated from a prestigious and highly selective institution of higher learning. If any correlation is to be made, it may be that those who lack those advantages often do better, rather than worse, than those who have them. Perhaps those who lack such advantages recognize that they have to work harder. Perhaps they had to work harder to get their degrees. Perhaps they are less likely to suffer from hubris, an unfortunately common failing among those who seek and attain high political office.

Character, humility and good old fashioned common horse sense are, to my mind, far more important than anything else in deciding for whom to vote. They trump a prestigious formal education. We tend to trust those with good old fashioned horse sense, and to distrust those who lack it. We should. Ivy covered ivory towers do not consistently inculcate good old fashioned horse sense or, for that matter, good character.

I do not intend to suggest that education is superfluous, or a detriment. I do mean to suggest that excessive focus on how well a candidate did in which college is not the key to determining how well he (or she) will do in high office. What he or she accomplishes later is a far better indicator of future performance.

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About Dan Miller

  • Cannonshop

    I wonder how many of the Directors and CEO’s of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, Lehman, Wachovia, Etc. etc. were educated at Ivy-League Schools?

  • I don’t think the issue is Ivy league or not, as such. Many non-Ivy schools provide a great education.

    Looking at cherry-picked exceptions to the importance of education as you do is not productive; exceptions only prove the rule.

    Here the rule is that these days a Bachelors degree (I believe that’s all McCain and Palin have) is a minimum requirement for an awful lot of pretty ordinary jobs. Many higher level jobs require or prefer an advanced degree. There must be a reason for this.

    Rudy G., in his convention speech, went through that drill about “who would you hire if you just saw their resumes.” I would say Harvard Law degree and selection for law review, or any law degree, would be a huge plus for Obama. Then teaching con. law at U. of Chicago (no it doesn’t have to be so Ivy, but a top tier school doesn’t hire and retain folks who can’t cut it intellectually).

    Frankly, were I to write a job requirement description for US President, I would include at least five college or graduate courses in economics, five history, five political science, five law (law school level preferred), basic accounting and financial statements, and 5 courses in international relations or development. Beyond substantive knowledge, such education displays active interest in issues of importance in running this country.

    What did I leave out? Do we know what McCain and Palin took?

  • Dan,

    The fact is though, that much of the corporate world AND the federal government is run by people from the more prestigious colleges and universities in this and other countries. Obviously, some have done far better than others. But, as with the entire thrust of your article, it comes down to the individual.

    A lot of people – our current president as a for instance – get into schools like Yale or Harvard, or Columbia, etc., mainly through family connections. I have read somewhere that if GW had come from a typical middle class family, he may have had difficulty being accepted at an average community college.

    However, some people gain entrance to these schools based upon merit – upon scholastic achievement. That appears to be the case for Senator Obama. That he did well at both Columbia and Harvard speaks well of him.

    Governor Palin’s case is obviously far different. I know nothing of how or why she managed to attend 5 or 6 different schools before finally wresting a journalism degree from the U of I. Perhaps, owing to circumstances, her jumping from school to school actually paints a positive picture of someone determined to complete what she had begun. I don’t know.

    However, I do find the penchant that many people have for belittling those having graduated from the more prestigious schools annoying and misguided. Graduating from state schools like the University of Idaho, or as in my case, Indiana University, does NOT afford one “horse sense.” Again, that comes down to the individual.

    It appears to me that given your prior statements in favor of the McCain/Palin ticket, that an unspoken intent of your article is to indicate that Palin DOES possess this basic horse sense and that Obama, perhaps, does not.

    Had Obama been raised in privilige as, say, GW was, I would perhaps be more inclined to agree with that assessment. But the inference so many make that Obama is an “elitist” Ivy Leaguer is disingenuine and just wrong. That he displays a certain elegance in his look and in his demeanor is hardly evidence of his lacking common sense. His middle class upbringing coupled with his years working in Chicago’s poor south side communities, I believe, engendered him with a good deal of understanding of and connection with people of all economic, social and educational backgrounds, or in other words, common sense.

    The charge that Obama spent his years in Chicago working within the “machine” is bogus and effectively meaningless. Certainly, he had contact with the powers that be there out of necessity. To assume that he has been “groomed” or somehow tainted by this association is both unfair and unprovable. Such charges make for good sound bytes, but little else, and are born of a cynicism that often precludes giving anyone the benefit of the doubt. In that regard, our court system is far more liberal in its judgment assuming innocence before rendering a verdict.


  • George,

    Great observations! Yours is a more compelling argument than mine.

    The fact is that the top tier of colleges and universities not only draw better students, but also better professors and better guest lecturers. They tend to have superior curriculums and offer greater and more meaningful contact with the powers that be in government, business and the sciences not only in this country, but in the wider world as well.


  • Dan –

    You made quite a few very good points. However, I must take issue with your statement:

    “Character, humility and good old fashioned common horse sense are, to my mind, far more important than anything else in deciding for whom to vote. They trump a prestigious formal education.”

    You left out one CRUCIAL characteristic: Intellectual curiosity.

    Did you vote for Bush II? His dad wasn’t so bad, but Bush II didn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shi’a…and the strategic importance of that schism.

    But then, Bush is not known for much more than a rudimentary knowledge of countries outside American borders. Neither is McCain who, despite his Navy career (I am retired Navy, btw), ALSO doesn’t know the significance of the Sunni-Shi’a schism.

    Am I putting too much importance on one cultural fact? No, because if Bush II had truly been as familiar with that part of the world as he SHOULD have been, he would have known better than to invade Iraq…and McCain SHOULD have known better than to repeatedly claim Shi’a Iran was supporting Sunni Al Qaeda.

    Sun Tzu: “Know your enemy”. True then, true now.

    You see, as important as the Middle East is to the industrialized world – not to mention the little fact that Bush II conducted a war there (and then there’s the ongoing ‘War on Terrorism)- it should be INCUMBENT upon any prospective president to be intimately familiar with the cultural and national issues there.

    Was Bush II? No.
    Is McCain? No.
    Is Palin? No.
    Is Obama? Yes.
    Is Biden? You betcha!

    INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY. One doesn’t need a degree to have a thirst for knowledge…one simply needs the thirst.

    Bush II, McCain, and Palin do NOT have that intellectual curiosity. McCain doesn’t even use e-mail! My 93 y.o. grandmother did, but not McCain?!?!? And Palin…watch her interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC.

    Obama and Biden both do – I don’t think you’d argue otherwise.

    P.S. You also mentioned ‘humility’. IMO, that (and gratitude) are the two most important virtues in a personality. However, if you’ll check their actions over the years, ‘vindictive’ would apply to Bush, Cheney, McCain, AND Palin. One who is truly humble is NOT vindictive. The two are mutually exclusive.

  • Cannonshop

    Obama and Biden both do – I don’t think you’d argue otherwise.

    I will…with your own statement.

    One doesn’t need a degree to have a thirst for knowledge…one simply needs the thirst.

    There’s a big difference between learning the right pretty words to say/parrot, and being “intellectually curious.” Barack Obama went to the right school, with the right degree, to fake it. That’s a big part of what Ivy Leaguers do (and anyone that’s had to work under an ivy-leaguer who ISN’T can testify to this.)

    “One who is truly humble is NOT vindictive.”

    Two words: Hillary Clinton.

    McCain, and Palin do NOT have that intellectual curiosity.

    How does a B.A. in Journalism learn enough to not only get a seat on the Ethics board of the Oil & Gas commission in Alaska, but enough to actually formulate and push through ethical reforms? Not to mention push out unethical members that were PROVEN to be unethical?

    How does a B.A. in Journalism dope out the political machine that’s been running the State of Alaska as a corporate fiefdom well enough to break that machine and put key members OF that machine out of office, including placing someone with considerably more influence and academic achievement in jail for taking bribes? Ethics rules and laws are complex, they have a language all their own with terms that don’t mean the same things between Legalese and English. A sports-broadcaster should be (and most times would be) an easy steamroll for a slick politician with aides, access, power, and money (not to mention influence WITHIN the same party). Even finding a good advisory team takes expertise, talent, or luck. You may not like what Palin chose to study, or what lessons she drew from it, but be honest, now, could you have done that job? accomplished the same things, with the same background, against equal opposition?

    As for McCain… Notice that all of Obama’s people agree with him all the time, every time, in public? Biden walked backward fast from his comments earlier in the campaign (before becoming “The ONe’s” second banana). McCain’s either deaf, or he’s Intellectually Sophisticated enough that he does not choose to live in an echo-chamber where all who speak on his team are required to hold his views-even when they change.

    One of the surest markers of a vindictive soul, is one who is so brittle they will brook no dissent. Obama can’t even take someone mocking his ears. HIs followers make no effort to support their faith by showing his accomplishments, only by belittling and attacking his opponents.

    Being able to sugar-coat the same old game the same old way isn’t intellectual curiousity, it’s salesmanship. Providing empty words with no backing is not a sign of intellect, nor are using glittering generalities, straw-man arguments, appeals to sentiment, or bandwagoneering signs of intellectual prowess (or even curiosity.) I read Obama’s book. It’s not deep, it’s merely empty.

  • Cannonshop

    Oh…and, ah…Ivy League educations? a diploma mill for the upper crust, a ticket to a higher paying job than lesser schools. Most of the CEO’s and upper management staff responsible for the Mortgage mess, the collapse of commercial banks, and the panic on Wall Street graduated from Ivy-League schools-some quite high in the standings. Ditto for the regulators who failed to enforce existing rules, and likely will not be pursuing the appropriate criminal charges stemming from more than sixteen years of mortgage fraud, securities fraud, and bank-fraud.

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    There are indeed a certain number of children of privilege of who attend the good schools and then go on to run and ruin the country, but I come down on the side of Glenn. A well educated person is one who has intellectual curiosity and continues to educate him or herself. Obama is and was a person of immense and intense intellecutal curiosity and he brooks much dissent. Please read the profile of him in this Sunday’s Times…. as a law professor, he demanded the best of his students and allowed any opinion, progressive or conservative, as long as it was supported by fact. The whole ears thing is ridiculous. NO one likes personal attacks about their looks and as long as the right blows this small incident out of proportion and fails to see what a deep and wide intellect he has, it will do this country a grave disservice.

  • Cannon,

    The stereotypical depiction of “Ivy-Leaguers” is just that, a stereotype. It is true that some of them are basically, pampered, rich air heads – like our current president for instance. I can assure you though, that far greater numbers of those who come out of lesser institutions lead unremarkable lives accomplishing little or nothing toward the betterment of society.

    It’s easy to say that it is Ivy-Leaguers who have engineered the current cluster fuck of the economy, and, perhaps, not entirely wrong. But, it has also largely been Ivy-Leaguers – people graduated from the top tier of schools – who have run government, business, banking and securities institutions throughout much of this country’s history – through good times and bad. That a few of the current crop of former ILs may be in part responsible for the state of our economy hardly serves as an apt condemnation of top tier schools – a number of which aren’t actually “Ivy-League” such as Stanford, Northwestern, U. of Chicago and Duke to name a few.)

    “…to fake it. That’s a big part of what Ivy Leaguers do (and anyone that’s had to work under an ivy-leaguer who ISN’T can testify to this.)”

    That statement amounts to no more than ignorant parroting of the mantra of the ill informed. It is also signatory of the anti-intellectualism that flourishes here. A large number of people in the U.S. apparently believe that ignorance is bliss and to be applauded. People wear their ignorance emblazoned on their sleeves as a badge of honor. It is stupid and embarrassing.

    If you read Obama’s book and were unimpressed, you didn’t understand it.

    And the flap about Obama’s ears? You misread the entire incident. Obama and Dowd’s encounter was all in fun. Obama was not serious, but only humorously chiding Dowd. You just hear what you want to hear and what the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity tell you. You’re not showing much intellectual curiosity, are you?


  • Dan, your article is well written (must be that Ivy League sheepskin) and struck a chord with me. Who says that having a degree from Yale or Harvard means the graduate is superior to someone with a similar degree from a “lesser” school? Thinking so and saying so smacks of elitism.

    George Dubya graduated from such a school, right?

    For that matter, having any college diploma of any kind doesn’t guarantee success afterward. Besides, a wise person once told me, “it’s nice to be smart, but it’s smarter to be nice.”

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    Hmmmmm, Joanne. Niceness is nice, but it doesn’t mean anything if that’s ALL you are. Reading and education open up whole new worlds to people, as do travel, thinking, learning about other cultures, listening, and just exposure. A good education–no matter where or how one gets it–can be the very best gift one can give ones self, and it can help one be “nicer” to others.

    It’s ignorance that often causes meanness: when people know nothing about another race or religion or know nothing of history or another culture. When people have never met a person who isn’t like THEM, then it’s easy to be unkind or xenophobic or say things like “If you don’t like it here, go back where you came from” “or America is the best country in the world, and if you don’t think so, then you’re stupid,” or “Black people are all on the dole” or “People come here from Mexico to take our jobs” or “All Muslims are terrorists” or “Anyone with an Ivy League education is an elitist” or “God only loves you if you’re a Christian” or “You can’t get into Heaven unless you’re saved” and on and on ad nauseum.

    No, of course HAVING a diploma neither guarantees success or even intelligence, but as I said before, getting an education can open one’s eyes to a world outside one’s own; reading literature philosophy, history, geography, sociology, and psychology, to name a few, can provide insight into human character and can introduce you to what it really means to be fully human. And being human is the thing that connects us to everyone else on this earth.

  • cuervodeluna

    His father pulling strings to get GW Bush into ivy league schools didn’t seem to do much good.

    Someone mentioned being able to lead a horse to water but not to make him drink–here’s another oldie but goodie:

    You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

    Here in Latin America many fathers with money send their sons to ivy league schools–if you can make a donation, your kid gets in–simple as that.

    I met one guy here who is the rector (president) of a university in the state of Puebla. He told me how he spent 7 years at Harvard–4 as an undergraduate, and another 3 to get his PhD.

    And he doesn’t speak English.

  • Lee Richards

    I’ve known a lot of educated fools, and many very smart people with little formal education. Haven’t you?

    Education matters, depending on how it’s used.
    If it encourages us to think for ourselves and to keep on learning on our own, and enables us with a crap detector, then it is worthwhile and important.

    If it’s only sought to provide a credential leading into a mind-numbing, soul-sapping job, it’s a waste of time, money and energy.

    Your reference, Dan, to leading a horse to water reminded me of the wit and writings of Dorothy Parker. Her formal education ended at the age of 13, when she was asked to leave her Catholic school for refering to the immaculate conception as “spontaneous combustion.”

    Once challenged to come up with a funny line using the word “horticulture”, she responded, “you can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

    I’d say that what the candidates read, write, and speak are clearer indicators of how well and clearly they think, and use what they’ve learned in school and in life, than where they went to college.

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    But “formal” education, as I said above, can provide you with exposure, and exposure can lead you to true learning, if you’ve an open mind. If you just read a book to get a grade, then of course not.

    But if you eschew formal education, thinking that it’s all crap, then you’re truly ignorant.

    Reading for pleasure, for joy, for the sheer wonderment of exploring new worlds is one of the things that makes life grand…and can make you realize both how great and small man is and how much we all really have in common.

    Parker kept on learning and thinking all her life. And she was far more than just clever, she was smart. She was also tragically doomed and very sad.

    Anyone with a mind to can get a good education no matter where he or she goes to college IF he or she searches out the best teachers and truly wishes to learn, and IF his or her education doesn’t stop with whatever the professor assigns.

    A slacker is a slacker, a grade grubber is a grade grubber and a trust fund baby is a trust fund baby no matter where he or she attends school, whether it’s Harvard or East Podunk State. Truth is, Harvard often lets TAs and adjuncts teach nany of its undergrad courses (not that they aren’t good and well qualified) while some of the other Ivies and other small liberal arts collges have professors teaching courses to the undergrads. Harvard’s cache is in the degree, which doesn’t mean a curious and notivated and interested soul can’t get a very good education there (which I think Barack was, especially coming from his underprivileged background); but for some of the more inherently privileged kids it’s the getting in that counts. This is sort of an old and inside argument, though.

    My original point stands: the chance for an education (to paraphrase an old advertisement) is a terrible thing to waste. And too many kids DO waste it, by getting drunk, fucking off, and not working hard and learning what they could.

    Imagine! Four years just to read and learn. For me, it was heaven on earth.

  • cuervodeluna

    As a professional educator, I have to add a few cautionary words to Lisa’s glowing support of higher education.

    First off, all education is political. Somebody in a government office is deciding what students should learn. Institutions of higher education that don’t play by those rules are not accredited. Which means that their degrees are not seen as legitimate.

    Students need to be aware, then, that those days in university are not all wine and roses–that they are being conditioned to behave in certain ways that the government wants.

    This is the case all over the planet–nothing that the US has a patent on.

    I found that I learned more when I was not in class–all the way through to the PhD. I had the determination and the negotiating skills to convince teachers and profs all the way along the line that my grade should just ride on my exam results–or in the case of graduate school, on the essays and thesis and dissertation and exams.

    Not all students are confident enough to do that. Many get lost along the way in drinking and drugs and sex and sleeping instead of going to class–the pitfalls of being on one’s own as a young adult without a genuine passion for learning.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  • Baronius

    I for one haven’t seen a hint of Obama’s intellectual curiousity. I think the charge of elitism sticks in this respect: he doesn’t appear to have explored a lot of different ways of thinking. He hasn’t said anything particularly revolutionary, and doesn’t seem to be attracted to broad, controversial thinkers.

    The best a good teacher, program, or school can do is put out a good smorgasbord. A curious student will take samples from the different choices. In that way, formal education does matter. But you can find good and bad teachers and programs in a lot of places.

  • cuervodeluna

    I see, Baronius would vote for a revolutionary.

    Now that IS news.

    It really piques my intellectual curiosity to know just how he came to that position.

    In the meantime, I would suggest that everyone on this thread look up the definition of elitist, as it has zero to do with intellectual curiosity and everything to do with the belief that someone is superior to those with less formal education and less money.

    Elitism is a reflection, primarily, of social class.

    Wikipedia has this to say:

    “Elitism is the belief or attitude that those individuals who are considered members of the elite — a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern .”

    Back in the early 70s, Nixon had a vice-president named Spiro Agnew who referred to well-educated people as “effete snobs”.

    I remember that Spiro had to resign because of a a corruption scandal and I believe he was convicted of evading federal taxes.

    Maybe someone took offense at his personal attacks on the so-called effete snobs and turned him in?

    Who knows?

    I BELIEVE that the politics of Gringolandia would take a giant step if it put aside the class and race cards and looked towards what could be done to save Gringolandia from the abyss of history–as it is veeeeeeery close to the edge.

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    That’s too bad, Baronius. Perhaps you need to read Obama’s books and take a look at things written about him and take a another look. I think people feel inspired by him.

    And Cuervo, I always wonder what it means to be a “professional educator.” People call themselves that but it baffles me. It did when I was on the school board of my city for 5 years and a member of the Virginia School Board Association. Are you a teacher? A professor? An administrator? A union person?

    I have found that the books my professors steered me to were the greatest eye openers for me…. the Russian novels, the philosphers, the semioticans, the English novels, the educational philosophers, the historians, the writers themselves and what they said about the art of writing, the painters and the architects, and then getting the talk about those authors and their ideas with other students…. I was very fortunate. I had wonderful professors who cared about their subjects and honestly seldom had agendas they were trying to impart other than to get us excited about learning. And to make us into THINKERS.

    I attended college in the 70s when, it seemed, people were eager to learn. I studied everything I could, whether it had to do with my “major” or not. And I have continued to read fiction and nonfiction, essays and poetry, news magazines, literature, graphic novels, you name it for the past 35 years. I’ve been lucky to travel and meet extraordinary people and talk about their worlds…. I’ve been lucky to live in different places. I’ve been lucky to have children. It’s all been part of my education.

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    Well, Baronius is certainly wrong in HIS calling Obama an elitist and yet finding no evidence of his intellect. I, on the other hand, find him extremely intelligent, but hesitant to call him elite because that terms, like liberal, has taken on such a terrible taint. I know what a eltist means and I suppose I could call myself one as could any number of others but then people would sneer at me (and them) and callus names:)

  • cuervodeluna


    Really got under your skin, huh? You just don’t want to let it go.

    You asked: “Are you a teacher? A professor? An administrator? A union person?”

    And my answer is: ALL OF THEM. I started out as a professor/union leader of the AFT local at Northern Illinois University in 1968.

    Since then–apart from non-educational pursuits I have been a teacher (junior high and high school in Mexico), Director of several university divisions (US, Mexico, Ecuador, Jordan, Bahrain) Academic Dean (Ecuador, Bahrain) and Director of a language institute (Mexico). Currently I am an educational consultant.

    In my book, that’s a professional educator.

    Maybe your requirements are different, and perhaps you’d like to explain why I am NOT a professional educator?

    Or maybe you would like to just let the bone go….and have a weekend, which is what I am going to do.

    All the best.

  • Glenn Contrarian wrote: “Bush II, McCain, and Palin do NOT have that intellectual curiosity.”

    Libs view one’s capacity for “intellectual curiosity” based on nebulous criteria like finding “nuance” and then talking about it ad nauseam until everyone has been bored to death.
    Of course, a generous helping of hand wringing and guilt mongering is a prerequisite. No intellectual exchange among American libs is never complete without blaming traditional American institutions or Republican leaders for the ills that beset society or the world at large.

    “McCain doesn’t even use e-mail!”

    We all know it’s due to physical limitations stemming from his war wounds, so why keep repeating this cheap shot?

  • Just a side question: Dan, which leader is more effective: the concept of the philosopher-king or benevolent dictator?

    Some of the dumbest comments I ever heard were in my classes in University or from Ivy Leaguers so I see Dan’s point. Not all, of course, were like this because it does come down to the individual. In order to produce true scholars it needs to be a)apolitical and b) extremely difficult. We churn out degrees now like butter.

    Then, during my time in financial services, some of the most blinded people I ever met were “educated” in University. And they were without humor to boot.

    During those 10 years (in which I saw a few stupid government bail outs) where I fell at odds with just about any manager or “idea” pushed by the bosses, I met a remarkable individual and superb investor/banker. Hmm.

    He is easily the most brilliant and thoughtful person I ever met (and he remains my friend until this day.) He is a wise gentleman (a true Renaissance man) who graduated from high school and that’s it. Nothing more.

    He is the classic example of “natural” intelligence and humility.

    Together we had great philosophical discussions about history, banking culture, investing, sports and so on.

    I agree with #15. Most of my knowledge, training etc. also all came outside the water-downed four walls of school.

  • Cindy D

    We all know it’s due to physical limitations stemming from his war wounds, so why keep repeating this cheap shot?

    Actually what’s cheap is using your “hero” status to cover up your incompetence.

    “When McCain returned from Vietnam, his service in the Navy required him to type reports. There is nothing in any of the medical records released by the McCain campaign that suggests in any way that McCain had trouble typing.

    The McCain campaign should release any such records if they exist. Otherwise, McCain’s campaign should be asked why it would attempt to exploit the senator’s genuine suffering during the Vietnam War to protect McCain from an embarrassing charge related to his inexperience with computers.”

    Quote from here.

  • David,

    Even people close to our current president have repeatedly commented upon GWs lack of curiosity. As an example he is said to rarely ask questions, but just smile (or perhaps not smile) and nod when being given a briefing from whoever.

    “No intellectual exchange among American libs is never (sic) complete without blaming traditional American institutions or Republican leaders for the ills that beset society or the world at large.”

    Funny how much of that sentence could be turned around saying essentially the same thing about American cons. According to most of you, liberals or lefties are pretty much responsible for every bad thing that’s ever happened to this country including zits and “the heartbreak of psoriasis.”

    McCain can’t use email owing to his POW injuries? I knew that he could not raise his arms above a certain level – in his bio video it states that he is unable to salute the flag that he served – but never have I heard that he couldn’t manage using a keyboard. So no, “we all” don’t know that.


  • bliffle

    alessandro needs to sharpen up his disquisitions.

    “which leader is more effective: the concept of the philosopher-king or benevolent dictator?”

    Are those the only choices? Why?

    What you’ve posed is not a dichotomy. The alternatives do not exclude each other nor do they include all possibilities. Oops! Failed on 2 out of 2.

    One imagines, using your own words, that another choice might be a benevolent philosopher or a dictator king.

  • Alessandro, in Comment #22, you ask which leader is more effective: the concept of the philosopher-king or benevolent dictator? Interesting question, but much would depend upon the various personal characteristics of the individual in question. Fortunately, in the U.S. we don’t have to make that choice.

    As to the balance of your comment: I vividly recall trying a case in which statistical methodology was very important. I retained an expert in the field who had retired as head of one of the best television ratings services and he was excellent. He had only a Baccalaureate degree but was, if such a thing is possible, a natural-born statistician. He was highly articulate. Over the years, he (let’s call him Bill) and I became a good friend. At his suggestion, I also retained a chap with a doctorate in mathematics, who knew quite a lot about statistics and whose impeccable academic credentials might add a bit of weight to our case. The other side had retained an expert with a PhD who taught marketing at the University level. Our PhD expert was pitiful, because he could not articulate even a simple concept with sufficient clarity to be understood by anyone lacking the requisite expertise. Terrible witness. Bill had to translate for me when I tried to obtain information. He also had to edit the guy’s written testimony drastically, not to change the substance but to make it understandable (this was a administrative proceeding, in which a witness presents his direct testimony in writing, and is then cross examined by opposing counsel concerning it.) Fortunately, opposing counsel didn’t do much cross examining, possibly because his expert witness couldn’t think of any helpful questions to ask. We won.


  • Cindy D

    I’ll take the benevolent philosopher please!

  • bliffle,


    The philosopher-king is something Plato talked about. The benevolent dictator is something observers would call some of our PM’s – notable Chretien. Just threw it out there. I’m not writing a thesis paper so you don’t have to worry.

    Relax. It was just a light question deliberately designed to elicit a response and see where it goes.

    The balance of the comment was more important to me.

  • Cindy,

    But can the benevolent philosopher lead? Life isn’t always as neat you know. What if he or she has to make hard choices that run contrary to their beliefs? What then?

    Here in Canada, it so happens, the leader of the Liberal party Stephane Dion can be described as such. But his leadership qualities have been questioned. Michael Ignatieff is another scholar looking to lead.

  • I suppose the question is which “combo” is best suited for leadership?

    I know in my experiences in sports it wasn’t the thinkers who were captains.

  • cuervodeluna

    How did this Lady or the Tiger of the Philosopher King or the Benevolent Dictator come into this dicussion?

    I don’t believe someone who would even be considered within the Philosopher King archetype has existed since Marcus Aurelius.

    You can decide if he was part of the reason that Rome went in the toilet.

    As for the Benevolent Dictator–again, you’d have to go back to the Roman Empire to find somebody to shoehorn into that model.

    Neither philosophers nor benevolent people run for public office in Gringolandia.

  • #31 I asked and directed it to Dan. He asked if an Ivy League education was necessary. I freely took a leap to connect it to Philosopher-Kings and benevolent dictators. That’s all.

    It is indeed a question that can be best directed to ancient considerations. Then again, the city-states in Renaissance Italy may qualify.

  • cuervodeluna

    I am unlikely to be persuaded that the Borgias were either philosophers or benevolent.

  • Lisa Sold Warren wrote: “(which I think Barack was, especially coming from his underprivileged background);”

    This is just one of the reasons why I hold libs in contempt. In the course of building myths around their beloved messiahs, to whom they pin all their hopes and dreams on, they’ll fabricate history.

    The truth is, Martin Luther Kennedy’s grandmother, with whom he lived with while growing up in Hawaii between 1971 and 1979, was a bank vice president.

    So our dear Barry O. did not lead the life of the underprivileged as claimed.

  • cuervodeluna


    I think it goes without ssaying that he comes from a privileged background.

    The days of being born in a log cabin in the sticks and becoming president are long gone.

    If you don’t come from privilege–even if you talk like a developmentally disabled hillbilly, as GW Bush does–you don’t have a chance.

  • ” … even if you talk like a developmentally disabled hillbilly …”

    I thought personal attacks were not permitted here.

  • cuervodeluna

    I didn’t know that GW was posting on this site.

    In fact, I do not believe for one minute that he COULD be, as he cannot even read and write English.

    And that is by his OWN admission.

    Which is in the public domain.

    Google it.

    And get a life.

  • David Black: The personal attacks thing is with regard to other commenters not public figures.

  • “The personal attacks thing is with regard to other commenters not public figures.”

    What a pity. Many private citizens are bigger losers and jackasses than any public figure you can cite.

    Want proof?

    Attend any meeting/rally on behalf of the NAACP, NOW, NOI, GLAAD, CAIR, ACT UP, PETA, the Democrat Party, the Losertarian Party, or Ron Paul.

    Look at the police arrest list during the GOP convention in Minneapolis and note the kind of human dreck attacking and/or harrassing convention antendees.

  • #33 – Heh. But that’s but one family. The de Medici’s are the other famous clan. The city-states were always at war with each other.

    Now, I can say we’re heading off track here.

    Back to the Ivy league discussion.

  • Obama has never claimed that he was underprivileged.” Rather, he claims to have come from an essentially middle class existence. Being a bank vice president is not a particularly big whup. A bank of any size, as with about most even mid-sized corporations, will likely have a large number of so called “vice presidents.” That hardly indicates that Obama was born with a silver foot in his mouth as was GW, and he doesn’t have a problem remembering how many homes he owns as does John “Wilkes Booth” McCain.

    Many right wingers come off as obnoxious and condescending, brimming with contempt, mean spirited, unable to understand even the most elemental aspects of humanity. It’s not a question of missing the grays. It is a matter that they have no idea that a full range of color even exists. They see life through a broken prism blocking out all but the opposing extremes of the spectrum. Their attitudes and opinions are ugly and largely uninformed, their concerns rarely going beyond their own wallets.


  • “Even people close to our current president have repeatedly commented upon GWs lack of curiosity. As an example he is said to rarely ask questions, but just smile (or perhaps not smile) and nod when being given a briefing from whoever.”

    I see, so you would prefer some wonky PhD pinhead type that loves pondering and yammering in abstracts ad nauseam instead of just listening and saying, “let’s get it done,” and getting it done in an expediently resolute manner.

    Sorry, I don’t want executives acting like they’re running some pseudo-intellectual think tank. Endless and pointless blather bores me. People that discuss just for the sake of discussion are people I have no use for.

  • No, I prefer someone who actually thinks, someone who actually uses his brain, over some mindless idiot who just shoots from the hip in the hopes that he might actually hit an intended target.

    Do you honestly think that issues affecting hundreds of millions of people should be carried out by idiot knee jerk responses? That amounts to fucking cowboy idiocy, the very reason that people around the world think we are all dumber than a box of rocks.

    I know, you don’t give a rat’s ass what anybody else thinks. That just adds to the knuckle dragging stupidity.


  • Clavos

    Do you honestly think that issues affecting hundreds of millions of people should be carried out by idiot knee jerk responses?

    Absolutely not!

    Not before at least two dozen pointy-headed academics sit around “nuancing” the issue for at least a week.

    “On the one hand…

    …But, on the other hand.”

  • Baritone: please be honest and admit that you only prefer a leader who thinks LIKE YOU and shares your collectivist aim to reach consensus over issues.

    I know that libs desperately want to be loved and accepted by others. That’s why they’re collectivists. To act or think independently of the mob is an anathema to them.

    I loved the fact that Bush didn’t need to seek approval from France, Germany, or Russia or any of those other Eurotrash countries before making a move on behalf of US foreign policy.

    I say screw them and their descendence into Londonstan, Parisstan, and Munichstan. Their fate has already been sealed.

  • Uh, Cindy D., let me apprise you on some facts about arthritis and the human body, since I am somewhat arthritic due to physical injuries suffered 40 years ago. However, they are nowhere near the level suffered by MCCain during that five years of hell, a tenure libs can’t seem to respect.

    They would rather respect skin color over service and sacrifice on behalf of their country.

    As for arthritis, it develops over a time. Just because McCain could type in the 70s doesn’t mean that 30 years later he would still be able to handle that task easily.

    Again, libs prove what hypocrites they are when it comes to expressing “sensitivity” over a person’s suffering.

    But that suffering is only valid when it can be assuaged by heaping doses of lib largesse, right?

    When someone doesn’t need a lib entitlements to get through life, they are of no use to the lib power establishment and hence, not worthy of consideration, right?

    That’s why it’s preferable to support conservatism, because conservatism doesn’t promote dependency and enabling weakness.

    Libs would rather let their hearts bleed for people too stupid to get out the way of a hurricane in a poor southern city instead of true heroes that each day risk their lives trying to fight criminal or enemy scum at home or abroad.

  • “Not before at least two dozen pointy-headed academics sit around “nuancing” the issue for at least a week.

    “On the one hand…

    …But, on the other hand.”

    (insert sounds of wringing hands)

    “Gee whiz, I don’t know, what does the group think?”

    “I’d like to give an answer but I’m afraid it would offend someone.”

    “I’d like to give an answer that could be right but it also could be wrong at the same time.”

    “I’d like to give and answer that’s neither right nor wrong, but in some nebulous gray area in between. Gray makes me feel good.”

    “I’d like to give an answer but it doesn’t feel right to do so at this time. What do YOU think?”

    (start from the top and repeat ad nauseam)

  • What a bunch of self-righteous, self aggrandizing load of bullshit! Conservatives banish guilt by justifiying their greed, their “me first, fuck you” mentality by attempting to turn the tables back onto the left.

    You have picked up on all the Limbaugh/Hannity bullshit attacks on the left and now regurgitate them as if you had actually given all this any thought on your own. You move and talk at the behest of the puppet master.


  • Truth be told, baritone, the lib talking points and opinions espoused on this website bear a huge resemblance to most anything written on either huffingtonpost or the dailykos regarding the messiah Martin Luther Kennedy or the McCain/Palin ticket.

    Please, if you can cite one lib talking point or opinion regarding the election or its participants on this website that’s truly original, do so.

  • By the way, baritone, for years before the Fairness Doctrine was removed and right wing talk radio existed, I was saying essentially the same things. Sometimes, even over the airwaves.

    If anything, Rush and Hannity copied me.

  • “me first, fuck you”

    Sounds like one of your lib heroes, John Edwards, that great champion of the po’ and underprivileged, sneaking around the back doors of hotels at 3 AM.

    Such a humanitarian who couldn’t even stay faithful to his wife and kids! Tsk, tsk.

    Want me to start in your beloved lib icons, the Kennedy family?

    How about starting with brain cancer Teddy? Chappaquiddick, anyone? I think Mary Jo Kopechne, if alive, would attest to the “me first, fuck you” Kennedy way.

    How about that ol’ horn dog Jack in the White House while pretty lil’ Jackie was away?

    How about ol’ Bobby and Marilyn, sittin’ in a tree … ?

    This is the same disgustingly creepy Kennedy family your neo-Kennedy Barry O. loves to cite.

    Please, don’t give me that “me first, fuck you” stuff as a lib democrat exempt domain.

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    re #46

    I don’t know, David. 700 billion dollars for this bailout could buy an awful lot of infrastructure, health care for everyone, and really improve our school systems….

    It’s okay to “socialize” business but nothing else?

    It’s okay to allow business to be an under-regulated greedy free-for-all because it’s supposed to trickle down and benefit everyone, when what gets trickled down is just a lot of pain and suffering?

    We might see, in the long run a financial gain for some taxpayers from all of this (according to some analysts) but right now it’s a free for all.

    Mostly, Alan Greenspan, from whom McCain said he was going to learn his economics (since he didn’t know much about it) said that McCain’s economic plan would be absolutely terrible for this country, much worse than Obama’s. And Greenspan was partly responsible for the current meltdown!

    And according to all the best “thinkers” this is a global problem, not just an American one, and the only candidate who is thinking globally is Obama (this comes from the conservative network, Fox, from both Kondrake AND Barnes)

    So, it just might be possible that a “lib,” as you like to call us (I prefer progressive, although as I have said on another post, the true dictionary definition of the word liberal, if used by everyone to describe us, would be wonderful by me), a “pointy head intellectual” might just be the one to get us out of this mess.

    No one is discounting that McCain served his country. But just being a P.O.W. for 5 ½ years is no qualification for the presidency. My husband was a Vietnam era vet and a prisoner (although not for that long) and although he is certainly smart enough to be president, I doubt he would want it. I don’t think every P.O. W. of every and any war automatically gets to be our prez. And I really don’t care whether we can type or not. Although not being able to use the internet in this day and age seems rather ridiculous. He can, like my disabled sister, use a voice recognition program.

    BTW, The cost of the Iraq “war” which you seem to support could have also paid for a lot of other good things in the country which Bush claims we can’t afford.

    But then it’s our “duty” to just go into any country we please, take down their leader, make up a reason to kill their people, and wipe that “scum” off the earth. In the name of democracy. Oh, yeah. I get it.

    You are about the most pissed of conservative (other than O’Reilly) I have ever heard.

  • Clavos

    The banks should be allowed to collapse. Neither the US nor the world economies will collapse, though they will contract.

    There is no better means of regulation than failure.

    Governments should identify and compensate the victims directly, bypassing the thieves.

    The perps (government AND business) should be jailed in max security prisons for terms up to life without parole. The most egregious should be executed.


  • bliffle

    Hey, alessandro! Answer me a question. Do you prefer having sex with monkeys or with sheep.

    I eagerly await your response.

  • Bliffle,

    If I didn’t consider your comment #54 a gross and unwarranted personal attack on another commenter, I would suggest a reference to Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, in which it is sung, “we like sheep. . . .”

    Gosh darn. I suggested it anyway.


  • Bliffle,

    What’s the matter with you?

  • Alessandro, re your comment #56

    You don’t really want an answer to that, do you? It would probably be rather lengthy and boring.

    I tried my best to ignore comment #54, but the Devil (or his close cousin, Demon Rum) made me respond. Let it be. It’s disgraceful and well over the top; perhaps one of the comments editors will decide to delete it.

    On the other hand, perhaps even those intent upon demonstrating their own foibles should have the opportunity to do so.



  • Thank you, Dan. Yeah, you’re probably right.

    Yes, if that’s not a personal attack I’ve no clue what is.

    It is what it is. That’s CR’s call.

    You’re right. It says more about the person making such comments in public.

    Imagine if I actually said something offensive!


  • Joe Big Red

    I have a degree from an Ivy League school. I currently work with a combination of people that either have no college degree, have some college education, or have a bachelors degree. My biggest regret from my college days is that I did not make enough friends (network) to help make my life easier. It should have been easier to get the career position of my choice. Unfortunately, I spent over $120,000 in those four years and now (at age 31) I don’t even make that in one year. I have faith that I will indeed eventually make over $120,000 in a year. If you go to an ivy-league school and only get a bachelor’s degree, do yourself a favor and settle down on the east coast. My BA from Ezra Cornell’s university is about as impressive here in CA as a degree from CAL POLY. My degree is almost worthless in my eyes. Save your money parents- send your children wherever the heck they want to go. And always remember- it is the learning that a kid does in the real world that makes all the difference as to whether they will be financially successful come adulthood.

    -Big Red alumnus in the red