Pauline Kael, the famous movie critic for The New Yorker, once commented that “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” Kael’s isolation was profound. When that quote appeared in print, Nixon had just carried 49 states in the 1972 election.
Members of the American aristocracy—the so-called “one-percenters”—live in a different world from that of regular, working-class and small-business-class Americans. Inside their bubble, these members of the ultra-privileged are protected from opinions and facts that run counter to left-wing orthodoxy. Barack Obama can do no wrong except for being insufficiently tough on those small-minded, ignorant Little People from Flyover Country who hate him and refuse to recognize his brilliance and the sheer wonderfulness of all his policies.
This isolation is a critical element of so-called Progressivism, the belief that a small, well-credentialed elite should dominate society on the ground that they’re smarter than other people. (They’re not, of course. The well-credentialed elite includes, for example, people like the Kennedys, the Bushes, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama, who got into elite colleges via political connections or because of who their fathers were.)
In Progressive theory, they know more about how you should live your life than you do. If they decide that you shouldn’t drink a jumbo soda at the movies, you must not be allowed to do so. If they decide that your health insurance policy should cover birth control along with treatment for drug addition, you must not be allowed to buy coverage that doesn’t include those things.
When they take away people’s choices, they often argue that they’re only doing what’s best for you. In fact, it doesn’t really matter whether their policies work. Studies showed that New York City’s mandate for calorie-count menus at fast-food restaurants had no positive impact on people’s diets, so—naturally—that failed idea was included in Obamacare.
As radio talk show host Chris Plante puts it: They don’t care what you do, so long as it’s mandatory. Progressives are just as comfortable requiring “diversity” quotas that discriminate based on race as they were enforcing Jim Crow laws that discriminated based on race. Among presidents prior to Obama, Woodrow Wilson serves as Progressives’ greatest idol and role model. He is also the spiritual father of the modern Ku Klux Klan.
Some call the Progressive vision proctocracy, from the Greek for “rule by [arrogant fools].”
Whatever it’s called, Progressivism is linked to so many absurdities (Keynesian, racism, Global Warming theory, et al.) that it cannot survive in the free marketplace of ideas. That’s why it has to keep competing sets of ideas out of the marketplace, through devices ranging from campaign-finance laws, to systematic ridicule in the news and entertainment media, to strict control over admission to the most important parts of the academic world.
Dan Kahn, a Yale Law School professor, let the cat out of the bag recently when he commented about a study suggesting a positive relationship between scientific understanding and participation in the Tea Party movement. Said Kahn: “I’ve got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I’d be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension. But then again, I don’t know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party.”
“I don’t know a single person…” That’s his claim, and he may be right. It may be that the professor’s habitat is so lacking in diversity that there is not a single person around “who identifies with the Tea Party.” That seems strange, given that the Tea Party movement is made up of a wide range of people, including religious conservatives, libertarians, small-business-class and working-class people of the sort who voted for Ross Perot in the 1990s. There’s little that unites them but opposition to crony capitalism, a desire to protect the rights enshrined in the Constitution, and the shared belief that the country cannot survive if the government’s unfunded liabilities continue to amount to some $3 million per family of four.
It may be a little hard to believe Professor Kahn’s assertion that he doesn’t know any Tea Partiers, but he seems to be an honorable man (he could have deep-sixed the results of his study, but chose not to). So let’s take him at his word and consider the implications: A Yale Law School professor doesn’t know anyone who identifies with the Tea Party movement—not a student, not a fellow faculty member, not a barber or ice-cream vendor or a cop on the beat, no one at all. That’s despite the fact that, according to his own study, 19% identify with the movement.
In the studies I’ve monitored over the past few years, Tea Party support has ranged from 10% to 44%, varying widely due to the political climate and the wording of the question: Are you a “member” of the Tea Party? Are you a “supporter”? Do you have a favorable impression of the Tea Party? And so on. Even in Congress, where the Tea Party is hated, some 7%-13% of members are considered Tea Party supporters.
Most polls show that self-identified liberals make up 18% to 21% of the electorate—roughly the same share as the 19% that identified with the Tea Party in Professor Kahn’s study. Can you imagine a professor at one of the country’s most prestigious institutions, the kind of place that spawns presidents, saying truthfully that “I don’t know a single person who considers himself a liberal”? Can you imagine a professor saying that about any group in our society of comparable size? Of course not.
Exclusion of that sort is the rule, it seems. Consider a book-length study in 2009 by two Princeton sociologists on “affirmative action” policies at eight prestigious colleges. As noted by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, the study indicated that such “affirmative action” had the most negative effect on so-called whites who were “the downscale, the rural and the working-class.” At private colleges in the study, “An upper-middle-class white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted than a lower-class white with similar qualifications.” And, “while most extracurricular activities increase your odds of admission to an elite school, holding a leadership role or winning awards in organizations like high school R.O.T.C., 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America actually works against your chances.”
All this reminds me of a 1984 U.S. Senate primary in Massachusetts in which a grassroots-populist businessman named Ray Shamie defeated the presumed front-runner, Elliot Richardson, a blueblood and RINO (we’d call him now) who had held four different Cabinet posts. Shamie’s supporters had bumper-stickers that read: “Vote for Elliot. He’s better than you.”
The Progressives: They’re smarter than you. Just ask ’em.