Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson

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The populist uprising that might have begun with Rick Santelli's mad-as-hell moment on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange floor has surely inspired a lot of chin-pulling. We shall see next week whether the national government will be sufficiently gridlocked or sufficiently transformed. Before that, though, comes the instant analysis. For the moment, the topic of a political class keeps the pixels jumping. Here's Elizabeth Scalia's assessment.
The ineducable masses begrudge the hectoring about their taste for “gas guzzlers,” from people who ride in limos. They dislike being dismissed as “provincial” or “parochial” by people who only associate with others of the same neighborhood and mindset. They are weary of being portrayed as less compassionate, less well-meaning, gosh darn it just lesser people because they believe in giving an equal-opportunity hand-up, rather than an impossible-to-sustain equal-hand-out.
That's a theme from Angelo Codevilla's The Ruling Class, reviewed here; his attempt to distinguish elites from masses is perhaps overbroad.

Charles Murray tills similar ground, arguing that there's an element of self-reinforcement of the political class.

Far from spending their college years in a meritocratic melting pot, the New Elite spend school with people who are mostly just like them -- which might not be so bad, except that so many of them have been ensconced in affluent suburbs from birth and have never been outside the bubble of privilege. Few of them grew up in the small cities, towns or rural areas where more than a third of all Americans still live.

When they leave college, the New Elite remain in the bubble. Harvard seniors surveyed in 2007 were headed toward a small number of elite graduate schools (Harvard and Cambridge in the lead) and a small number of elite professional fields (finance and consulting were tied for top choice). Jobs in businesses that provide bread-and-butter goods and services to individual Americans, which make up the overwhelming majority of entry-level openings for aspiring managers, attracted just 1.7 percent of the Harvard students who went to work right after graduation.

The column provokes an instructive response from Betsy Newmark.
They live in similar suburbs, go to similar schools, marry each other and then raise children to repeat their pattern. And the result is two different groups of people. And from Murray's description, I'm one of the New Elite.
Which doesn't deter her from regularly challenging the commonplaces of that political class.

And thus the difficulties with Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System, by Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen. (Anybody else wonder if Mr Schoen is really Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford? He sure resembles Lumpy's father.) Book Review No. 23 suggests that, while the pollsters have made a serious attempt to understand the fault lines in politics, ultimately a stratification based on polling data will be inconclusive. The book makes some use of Mr Rasmussen's Political Class Index, described on p. 85 as the responses to three questions.

  1. Generally speaking, when it comes to important national issues, whose judgement do you trust more, the American people or America's political leaders.
    Those in the mainstream say the American people; those in the political elite say political leaders.
  2. Some people believe that the federal government has become a special-interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests. Has the federal government become a special interest group?
    Mainstreamers say yes; the political elite says no.
  3. Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?
    Mainstreamers say yes; the political elite says no.
The problem with this taxonomy is that, without further information about the intellectual background of the responders, it's incomplete. I could survey the current graduate students at the New School for Social Research and get a leaders, no, yes pattern; I could survey graduate students in public choice at George Mason and elicit a people, yes, yes pattern; I could survey members of a government employees' union and elicit a leaders, no, no pattern. The first two populations might provide technocrats for the state; the third population is supposed to pay its dues and vote for the technocrats.

The taxonomy leads to a number of bar charts purporting to show different attitudes toward tax rates, financial bailouts, or campaign contributions between Political Class people and mainstream voters. There's no analysis of margin of error or testing whether differences in the point estimates of the responses are statistically significant. I have the same complaint about other polls from other polling services that are cited throughout the book. Perhaps the authors felt a compulsion to get into print, how else explain a chart on p. 59 with one plot labelled "Excluding capital gains" and the other labelled "(need triangle info)". Or perhaps a proofreader at Harper was napping.

The populism Messrs Rasmussen and Schoen observe (p. 51) "represents the conjoining of three separate, distinct, and not easily reconcilable strands of conservatism: economic conservatism, small-government libertarians, and social conservatism." That's an uneasy coalition: the authors suggest that Father Coughlin and 1950s McCarthyism are "historical antecedents" (p. 36), although they include Huey Long or William Jennings Bryan as other possible antecedents. They also note some of the more colorful Tea Party activists: like some of the political candidates who make a virtue of their naivete, these provide easy targets for more establishment political leaders, of whatever stripe. The authors do note the organizational backers of the various Tea Party umbrella organizations, including some of the monied interests that so annoy the establishment, particularly on the left.

Those with long enough memories will recall the usefulness of Mott Foundation money in the McGovern campaign. The money might have helped Senator McGovern: without a message that appealed and opponents who demonstrated their ineptitude during the primary season it would have been mis-spent idealism. So might it be with the corporate money backing the various grassroots organization. If Arnold Kling is right, the money is reinforcing a sentiment already in the air.
But what the audience wanted to hear (and what they got from most of the other speakers) was a message that once the Republican establishment is back in power, all will be well. There is no way that I could have said that.
That's the ultimate message of Mad as Hell.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: current events, politics

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