Saturday, January 05, 2008


This may be a "plow/gown" collaboration. The University of Momboy, a mountain school in Venezuela, is sending books to rural kids on mules. Makes me proud to be an academic.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Meritocracy Delivers: The Clintons and the Obamas

Good Things for the New Year 4

There few institutions more intensely meritocratic these days than the Ivy League law schools. The applicant pool of any of those institutions contains perhaps half the people who will be running the country, and the world, a generation later. Those who make it in are awesomely talented. (Full disclosure: I am married to one).

I have found the story of the Clintons' courtship a wonderful tale of knowledge-class romance. Their eyes met in the Yale Law School library. Their first date was a private viewing of the Yale Art Gallery collection, which they earned by picking up the gallery's trash together during a garbage strike. Her Wellesley-graduation-speaker was brought together with his poor-boy/Georgetown/Rhodes-Scholar. A match made in meritocratic heaven.

And now their successors as the great Democratic couple -- and truly possibly as President and First Lady -- are two Harvard Law School graduates. OK, the Obamas did not meet at law school, but rather at a fancy law firm. They nonetheless were winnowed by the sorting machine. His Hawaii-prep-school/Occidental-College/Columbia-University/Harvard-Law-Review was joined to her Princeton (sociology major, by the way)/Harvard Law/Sidley & Austin.

The meritocratic sorting is not confined to Democrats - Chief Justice John Roberts and his wife Jane have an equally impressive dual c.v. Ever since the Ivies started downplaying social credentials and raising the bar on personal achievement in the 1960s, the entire ruling class has been drawn more and more from couples with what David Brooks appreciates as "titanic resumes."

And it is working. To be sure, we will still have powerful people with rough-and-tumble backgrounds, especially in business. And we still have quite a few "gentleman's C" students carried to power by social connections. But the drift of the ruling class, more and more, I think, will be to power couples sorted and brought together by the great American meritocratic schooling machine.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Primary Finally Begins

Good Things for the New Year 3

To the ten percent of the nation who are concerned with national politics, today is an exciting day: the Iowa caucuses have finally come.

Yes, it is ridiculous that our presidential primaries will probably be effectively decided in February, nine months before the election. Still, I am glad that after a year of overkill campaigning with almost no substance, we will finally start winnowing out the second tier, and the third tier. And maybe Kucinich.

If I had my druthers we would have one national primary on the Fourth of July. Then we could celebrate the end of the primary season with fireworks.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Support Free Elections - No Matter Who Wins

Good Things for the New Year 2

The government of the United States usually accepts the results of free elections elsewhere, even if we don't like who got elected. This is a good thing. The deep centrist wisdom of a pro-democracy policy is that democracy moderates extremists. Even when a majority of the electorate is worked up to back the hot-heads, eventually they will cool down. And then the extremists in office will have to moderate their position in order to get re-elected. Even when anti-democratic extremists get elected democratically, a pro-democracy world pushes them to hold free elections again.

So-called realists are always ready to stop other people's democratic elections if it appears that people we don't like will win. Worse, they are willing to overthrow democratically elected governments to install more pliant juntas. Sometimes there is a short-term advantage to this, to a company if not to the USA as a whole.

But preventing free elections always comes back to bite us. The realists only see the short-run benefits of imposing our regime, and not the long-run damage it does to us as well as to the countries whose democracy we subvert. We overthrew Diem, and lost Vietnam. We overthrew Mossadeq and lost Iran. We overthrew Allende and fed the communists throughout Latin America.

Supporting elections is very centrist and very American. We should support the electoral process of Venezuela, because what brought Hugo Chavez will take him away again. We should support the electoral process of Pakistan, because military dictatorship fuels the Taliban. We should support the electoral process of Iran, because the more elections they have, the more the Islamic Republic will evolve into a real, multiparty, multi-opinion republic.

And as to our own electoral process, I thank the Lord and the Founding Fathers each day for 1/20/09.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Democrats' Deep Bench

Good Things for the New Year 1

The Gruntleds spent New Year's Eve in the traditional nerdy way: watching CSPAN. The highlight of the evening was a speech by Michelle Obama at a senior citizen center in Iowa. She was just magnificent, and her account of her husband as a smart, decent leader was inspiring. I have had an Obama sticker on the van with the GRUNTL plates since last summer. Michelle Obama would make a great first lady. And Barack Obama, young though he is, would make a fine president of the United States.

Obama is not the only candidate on my van. I put three stickers on at the same time, and they form my favored ticket: John Edwards for president, Barack Obama for vice-president (for now), and Gen. Wesley Clark for Secretary of State. Edwards is at the top because he is most insistent on building a safety net for the poor, which should always be the top domestic priority of a Democrat. I would be happy to have Wes Clark as president -- I voted for him in the primary in 2004.

What is most remarkable to me is that I could crowd my whole van's rear with the names of Democrats I would be happy to vote for. I think Hillary Clinton would make a fine president, even if she maintains the Clinton policy of unnecessary trimming of principle. Bill Richardson is great -- I expect that he will be our vice-presidential nominee, regardless of who is at the top of the ticket. How often do we have a governor of New Mexico with the foreign policy experience to be Secretary of State? Joe Biden is a real statesman. Chris Dodd has turned into a fine legislator. And looking to the future, I am still hopeful about former Virginia governor Mark Warner, who was My Guy in the shadow race a year ago. And Jim Webb, the leading Fightin' Dem elected to the Congress in 2006, will be a force for good.

The Democratic Party [note to faux hicks: that's Democratic Party, not Democrat Party] has the deepest bench. This is good for the Republic, now and in the future.