Monday, August 27, 2012

Merit and Privilege Among our Presidents and Candidates

George W. Bush, Andover '64, was a prep school slacker.
He is the heir to every privilege this country has to offer.
As a result, he does not admit when he is wrong.
He stuck with his decisions, even when they led to growing disaster.

Mitt Romney, Cranbrook '65, was a prep school bully.
He is the heir to just about every privilege this country has to offer, save his religion.
As a result, he does not admit when he is wrong.
He sticks with his decisions, even when they lead to growing pain for others.

Bill Clinton was the child of poverty and family disaster.
He made his way by intellectual merit and hard work through the best meritocratic institutions this country has to offer.
As a result, he readily admits when he is wrong, sometimes very embarrassingly.
He tried to reach out to those who differ from him and to compromise with them for the larger good.

Barack Obama, Punahou '79, was the child of family disorder and ethnic-identity confusion, but also of a supportive extended family.
He made his way by intellectual merit and, eventually, hard work, through the best meritocratic institutions this country has to offer.
As a result, he does not readily admit he is wrong.
He does try to reach out to those who differ from him and compromise with them for the larger good.

9 comments:

ya sistah said...

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky" doesn't sound too "readily."

Anonymous said...

ya sistah

He was telling the truth in Arkansas language.

Mac said...

Re: President Obama: "He does try to reach out to those who differ from him and compromise with them for the larger good."

Really? He talks a good game, but then tells Harry Reid to bottle up anything coming out of the House for fear that enough of the Senators from his own party might actually bolt and pass the legislation. He is as uncompromising as any president I can recall in my 66 years.

Anonymous said...

Wow - for someone who claims to be a centrist, you should just readily admit that you step left as often as you can.

Brendan said...

This is an interesting post. I need to think about it.

pratfall said...

I wonder if Mr. Obama will admit he was wrong on the Arab spring?

Anonymous said...

Or Solyndra? Unemployment numbers? The economy?

gruntled said...

To ya sistah: yes, he denied his affair with Monica Lewinsky at first. But when he did admit his failure, he did it fully, and has done some many times since.

To Mac: I see the president employing Republicans in his administration on purpose, in a spirit of compromise. Obama has proposed policies that Republicans have long supported, but that they now oppose in order to deny him any successes and thus prevent his re-election. And the dominant Tea Party wing of the party is opposed to compromise on principle, which, in my mind, disqualifies them from government.

To pratfall: Obama was (and is) right about the Arab Spring, which I thought he handled brilliantly. Investing in alternative energy is a worthwhile risk, just as the government invested start-up money in many of our developed industries. The economy has been slowly improving, including the employment level, from the depression that the Bush administration nearly took us to. No president can "fix the economy." But I am glad that this president saved the auto industry and did not let the giant investment banks crash the world economy. And all in the face of intransigent resistance from the opposing party, even when his policies would reduce costs and create jobs.

Anonymous said...

Gruntled,
This is an interesting post to be sure, and a serious conversation about the differences between the “old elite” (people from deeply-rooted, white, wealthy, families with status and helpful connections) and the “new elite” (people who thrive at and graduate from a handful of elite universities where they gain status and helpful connections) is certainly worth having.

Where you lose me though is with your repeated phrase “as a result.” It is easy, common, and often fun to take a particular aspect of a person’s personality or style and attribute it to some particular of their upbringing or experience—but it is pretty thin soup. If President Obama were a person who more readily admitted his mistakes and made adjustments you could have written an identical blog post but simply omitted the word “not” in the second to last sentence.

Constructing narratives retrospectively is tempting and enjoyable but seldom helpful.