I Didn’t Go to Yale, I’m You

 

In response to Christine O’Donnell’s latest campaign ad in which she boasts about not having attended Yale, columnist Anne Applebaum asks, “Why do Americans resent upward mobility?

Once upon a time, you got into Harvard or Yale solely because of your alumnus grandfather. Nowadays, your alumnus grandfather still helps, but only as long as you did well on the SATs, were the captain of your ice hockey team, and in your senior year raised a million dollars for charity….If you did all that and come from a broken home in Nevada, so much the better.

I suspect the “anti-elite-educationism”…is growing now not despite the rise of meritocracy, but because of it. The old Establishment types were resented, but only because their wealth and power were perceived as “undeserved.” Those outside could at least feel they were cleverer and savvier, and they could blame their failures on “the system.” Nowadays, successful Americans, however ridiculously lucky they have been, often smugly see themselves as “deserving.” Meanwhile, the less successful are more likely to feel it’s their own fault—or to feel that others feel it’s their fault—even if they have simply been unlucky.

In America, the end of the meritocracy will probably come about slowly: If working hard, climbing the education ladder, and graduating from a good university wins you only opprobrium, then you might not bother. Or if you do bother, then you certainly won’t go into politics, where your kind is no longer welcome. We will then have a different sort of elite in charge of the country—and a different set of reasons to dislike them, too.

I understand “anti-elite educationism” to a point: the majority of folks who attend a Yale or a Harvard and end up in government tend to adhere to an ideology that entitles them, as the so-called educated experts, to fashion policy that will dictate how everyone else lives their lives. These educated elite behave as though they believe that they really know what’s best for thousands of families they’ve never met. When conservatives express distaste toward the “elite,” I believe it is precisely this sort of loathsome smugness that we are condemning.

But sometimes the anti-elite educationism extends beyond a point that I can comprehend. For instance, why is going to a school like Yale an inherently bad thing, as O’Donnell seems to indicate in her campaign ad? Are you not welcome to share O’Donnell’s politics if you hold a Yale degree? Are you not an ordinary American citizen who has the same concerns about jobs, education, and your children’s welfare if you spent four years at an Ivy League institution? I could use some insight from our readers into the impetus behind both anti-elitism in general, and anti-elite educationism in particular.

(Special thanks to Trace Urdan for sending me the Applebaum article)

There are 129 comments.

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  1. Podcaster

    It’s not just the education, Diane and it’s not just the Ivy League. (And I think we explored this before the last time your Dartmouth feelings were hurt.)

    It is the fact that America is no longer a nation that values accomplishment but fetishizes over credentials. We get, “Vote for Bob! He has a Harvard MBA!” instead of “Vote for Joe! He started a small business that grew into a world wide company that now employs 10,000 people!”

    Americans don’t resent upward mobility. That’s what we all hope for. But too little of it comes from being credentialed from the right place and not enough of it because of hard work. And you may think Dartmouth was hard work but it’s not. My old man in the steel mill – that’s hard work.

    Besides, don’t you feel any sense of irony of Americans being lectured by a woman who grew up in privileged Washington society (Sidwell, Yale and Oxford) and does so from Warsaw where her husband is the Polish Foreign Minister? (Which I feel compelled to say is a weeeee bit more insulated than living in Istanbul with a houseful of cats.)

    • #1
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:28 am
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  2. Inactive

    I hear you, Diane. It’s just that the most egregious exemplars of Leftist elitism do seem to have emerged from two schools – Harvard and Yale.

    The Kennedy’s, the Clintons, Obama, Kerry, Barney Frank, Justice Kagan – the list does go on and on.

    Hopefully, for every such example, there are dozens or hundreds of Ivy grads, who, like my spouse, burrowed into the belly of the beast, got a first-class education and emerged to quietly send contributions to the Pat Toomey’s and Michelle Bachmann’s of the world.

    • #2
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:29 am
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  3. Contributor
    Diane Ellis Post author

    EJHill: It is the fact that America is no longer a nation that values accomplishment but fetishizes over credentials. We get, “Vote for Bob! He has a Harvard MBA!” instead of “Vote for Joe! He started a small business that grew into a world wide company that now employs 10,000 people!”

    So does the ad work for O’Donnell? “Vote for me — I didn’t go to Yale and I’ve never accomplished anything!” It seems like the one thing she’s flaunting is that she didn’t go to Yale. How is that, in and of itself, a quality that makes a candidate more attractive?

    • #3
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:34 am
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  4. Inactive

    Diane Ellis, Ed: ” Are you not an ordinary American citizen who has the same concerns about jobs, education, and your children’s welfare if you spent four years at an Ivy League institution?”

    Well, probably not. Elites tend not to be so ordinary. Ivy Leaguers have concerns about jobs, education, and their kids to be sure, but are they consistently the same concerns that most people have? “Will my kid get into Phillips Exeter?” isn’t quite the same as “Will my kid have access to a decent, safe school?” is it?

    As for the “anti-elite educationism,” I don’t think it’s significant. Conservative populists attack cultural elites, and Ivy League is just short hand. Liberal populists attack economic elites, and use Wall Street similarly.

    • #4
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:36 am
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  5. Member

    It’s mainly the notion that there’s the Ivy League schools and then there’s everything else. It’s not “higher” education that people resent, but the social stratification of universities… particularly a stratification in which the old Northeast outshines the rest of America.

    It’s also the idea that a person must be groomed for public service… and by schools with recent histories that are, frankly, embarrassing. Peter Singer, anyone? Those schools have admirable teachers and programs as well, but it’s the liberal lunatics we usually hear about.

    There are many who take that distaste too far. But, overall, I’d say it’s healthy. People are just looking for politicians they can connect with.

    • #5
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:44 am
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  6. Inactive
    Andrea Ryan: Regarding medical training, my husband is an anesthesiologist and watches many surgeons operate on a daily basis. The Ivy League guys aren’t any better. In fact, my husband is in private practice with a neurosurgeon from the University of Alabama at Burmingham. He’s an excellent surgeon and runs circles around any of the other guys. The hardest medical school in the country to get into is Washington University in St. Louis…not Harvard or Yale. And, why did you choose Alabama? Are you implying that Alabama is a second rate state to New York or Massachusetts?

    Kenneth, it sounds like you went to an Ivy League School?? I enjoy reading what you write and many times I agree with you. I wrote “with the exception of the Ricochet participants” this is my observation. I’m just being honest with what we in the flyover areas think about the Ivy Leagues. · Oct 12 at 7:39pm

    UAB is an excellent medical school. Top 25.

    • #6
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:46 am
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  7. Podcaster
    Diane Ellis, Ed. So does the ad work for O’Donnell? … It seems like the one thing she’s flaunting is that she didn’t go to Yale. H

    Sure it works. Because Americans know that diversity is more than the superficial bill of fare we’ve been sold. More than race, more than gender and more than ethnicity.

    That and the fact that, on the whole, the Yalies and the Harvardites have got this country pretty screwed up.

    • #7
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:49 am
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  8. Inactive
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:I’ll start worrying about dangerous levels of anti-intellectualism when the candidates start running on the slogan, “I’ve never read a book. I’m you.” · Oct 12 at 7:16pm

    Because no one outside of the Ivies reads books, harf ! harf! harf!

    • #8
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:51 am
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  9. Inactive

    I’m not sure the ad works. She should be pounding home the message “I won’t raise taxes, and I’ll cut spending” which is the only reason people would vote for her. Bringing up anything in her background only highlights that she has zero qualifications for anything let alone a Senate seat.

    • #9
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:54 am
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  10. Contributor
    Diane Ellis Post author
    EJHill
    Diane Ellis, Ed. So does the ad work for O’Donnell? … It seems like the one thing she’s flaunting is that she didn’t go to Yale. H
    Sure it works. Because Americans know that diversity is more than the superficial bill of fare we’ve been sold. More than race, more than gender and more than ethnicity.

    That and the fact that, on the whole, the Yalies and the Harvardites have got this country pretty screwed up. · Oct 12 at 4:49pm

    So you’re saying that it works because it represents some sort of diversity? I’m not sure I see that…

    One could argue that Alvin Greene would bring a dose of diversity to the Senate, and not because of the color of his skin. He’s unemployed, and so can relate with the unemployed in this country. He’s also a sex offender, and thus brings a different perspective. Perhaps Greene should produce an ad beginning with the words, “I didn’t go to Harvard…”

    • #10
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:54 am
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  11. Inactive
    Diane Ellis, Ed.
    EJHill: It is the fact that America is no longer a nation that values accomplishment but fetishizes over credentials. We get, “Vote for Bob! He has a Harvard MBA!” instead of “Vote for Joe! He started a small business that grew into a world wide company that now employs 10,000 people!”
    So does the ad work for O’Donnell? “Vote for me — I didn’t go to Yale and I’ve never accomplished anything!” It seems like the one thing she’s flaunting is that she didn’t go to Yale. How is that, in and of itself, a quality that makes a candidate more attractive? · Oct 12 at 4:34pm

    If you think running for office against Joe Biden and failing is nothing, it is you that is out of touch.

    Those who never fail never try.

    • #11
    • October 13, 2010 at 4:56 am
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  12. Inactive

    By the way, the defenestration of that Applebaum article can be found here.

    • #12
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:00 am
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  13. Inactive
    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    So does the ad work for O’Donnell? “Vote for me — I didn’t go to Yale and I’ve never accomplished anything!” It seems like the one thing she’s flaunting is that she didn’t go to Yale. How is that, in and of itself, a quality that makes a candidate more attractive? · Oct 12 at 4:34pm

    The add sort of rubs me the wrong way, too. No, you aren’t me. That said, if the college a candidate attended is the only datum on which you have to evaluate him/her, then having not gone to an Ivy League school trumps having done so. There is a positive correlation between Ivy League association and statist leadership, as Kenneth pointed out. What was it Bill Buckley said? I’d rather be governed by the first 500 people listed in the Boston phone directory than the faculty at Harvard.

    • #13
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:03 am
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  14. Inactive

    In the sciences/engineering, you can tell an Ivy-leager (or Berkeley or Caltech grad, for that matter) by the amount of time it’ll take for them to tell you they attended that school.

    For those who graduated from Harvard or Berkeley they’ll tell you in the first sentence. It might take a couple of minutes for the Caltech grad.

    In my discipline, it matters little where you went undergrad. You can get an excellent education practically anywhere. For graduate school in Chemical Engineering, for example, you can get just as good education at Delaware or Minnesota as MIT or Caltech. For chemistry graduate programs, UNC and Illinois are just as good as Harvard or Berkeley. Of course, you have to know which publics are good, but the point stands nevertheless.

    And places like Brown and Dartmouth are not good in the hard sciences.

    Edit: I should not code when I type on Ricochet.

    • #14
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:03 am
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  15. Member

    The best aspect of the ad is that it’s a continuation of the last one. I have trouble explaining why I feel that helps, though.

    • #15
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:09 am
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  16. Podcaster
    Diane Ellis, Ed. So you’re saying that it works because it represents some sort of diversity? I’m not sure I see that…

    MMMMM, just playing the devil’s advocate again and being provocative or do you really have the inability to see that? You almost seem emotionally wounded at the idea that someone who went to the University of Akron or Boise State or Florida International just might have gotten as good as an education as you. (And that you probably overpaid for.)

    • #16
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:10 am
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  17. Member
    Kenneth

    …she turned down a no-tuition 2-year residency at another school in order to accept a $250,000 tuition 2-year residency at University of Pennsylvania because it was well-known in her field that the Penn program was superior and that the Penn imprimatur would make her more marketable.

    Kenneth, there are many outstanding medical schools throughout the country…UCSF, UCSD, Baylor, Vanderbilt, Emory, MD Anderson, Mayo, and many others. You are suffering from Ivy League myopia. People who only know Ivy League and don’t practice in other places think it must be the best. EJ’s right about it being more about the talent of the individual. My husband did the opposite of what your wife did and accepted the four year no-tuition and four year free room and board scholarship at St. Louis U over the scholarships offered to him from the big Northeastern schools. He was accepted into every anesthesia residency program he wanted to consider in the country. I’ll go back to what I said before. My husband sees surgeons perform surgery every day. The most outstanding ones did not train at Ivy League schools.

    • #17
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:15 am
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  18. Member

    Less telling and more showing by O’Donnell would be more effective. If she’s oozing with common sense solutions, then let’s hear some.

    But “I didn’t go to Yale” smacks of reveling in anti-intellectualism, just as “I went to Yale” smacks of self-regard.

    A decent rule of thumb for both sides: Gratuitously bringing up the matter is counter-productive.

    • #18
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:17 am
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  19. Member

    By the way, I skipped the part where he served five years with the Marines after medical school.

    • #19
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:18 am
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  20. Inactive

    Diane, you’re on a tear. I like your feisty side.

    I’ve been thinking about it: It’s not just about the Ivy education – it’s about the field of study our political elites chose while they were there. Together, the school and the choice of law or poli sci or something similar delivered them into the cocoon of elite leadership. They made their contacts, got their references and mentors and were, thus, hatched full-flown into the elite.

    Had those same people taken poli sci at, say, Joe Bloggs College or studied bio-chem at Princeton, the outcome would have been different.

    And then we come to folks like you and Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter – who did go to an Ivy League school because you had worked hard enough that you could get in – so why on Earth wouldn’t you? You should be commended for getting the best education available to you, not cavalierly tarred for it by the likes of no-account Christine O’Donnell.

    • #20
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:20 am
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  21. Inactive

    In the 90’s, Christine O’Donnell successfully performed one of the hardest jobs ever created – she made Bill Maher look good. This was a tough task, night after night, and something I don’t think I could do.

    The voters of Delaware have repeatedly elected Joe Biden, one of the nation’s dumbest Senators (he was one of five to vote against the Alaskan pipeline!). We’ll have to wait and see if this ad pays off in local votes.

    • #21
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:22 am
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  22. Inactive

    Now, I going to assume something that none of the above responses have assumed, including, EJHill, who being media savvy should have been the first to mention, but this ad and its predecessor are likely based on internal polls conducted by the campaign. That said, it doesn’t matter what any of us think if O’Donnell is crafting and buying ads in response to sound polling. As for Harvard and Yale and the Ivy League, it should be obvious there is an anti-establishment feeling running through the public in general that may be particularly vehement in Delaware, which had we done some internal polling we might know about. All other scribbles, including Applebaum’s, are irrelevant. The point being O’Donnell’s Campaign is local and not national, any confusion on that fact is likely to produce a disaster, so everyone get the ‘H” over yourselves, please!

    • #22
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:32 am
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  23. Inactive

    Candidate against mottled black background. Medium close-up. Simple hairstyle, light make-up, lighting to emphasize perkiness of cute little button-eyes:

    Candidate:

    “Hello, I’m Christine O’Donell. I’m you.”

    You see, I didn’t go to one of those elite Ivy League schools. I went to a 5th tier university, known primarily for the amount of projectile vomiting after sports events.

    Believe me, I’ve done my share of projectile vomiting. (Chuckle).

    So I’m you.

    And I didn’t graduate Magna cum Summa Laude or whatever, I was an indifferent scholar who didn’t even get my diploma until I coughed up tuition after 15 years.

    I’m you.

    Let’s face it, we’ve all had some tough times over the years and it’s not always possible to live one’s dream of long-term employment in an environment where you enjoy the respect of your peers by dint of hard work.

    No, some of us – through no fault of our own – get tossed out on our kiesters.

    I’m you.

    And hey, do you want to tell me you’ve never diverted campaign funds for personal expenditures?

    I’m you.”

    • #23
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:32 am
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  24. Inactive
    EJHill: …America is no longer a nation that values accomplishment but fetishizes over credentials. We get, “Vote for Bob! He has a Harvard MBA!” instead of “Vote for Joe! He started a small business that grew into a world wide company that now employs 10,000 people!”

    For what it’s worth, I can’t recall actually having seen an ad that puts a candidate’s education at the forefront. The ostensible focus is on accomplishments, even if the accomplishments take the form of a thin, demagogic veneer.

    My bigger concern is that education, elocution, and elan (it’s amazing what a pumpkin ale does for one’s alliterative abilities — I wonder if it has hallucinogenic properties?) are taking the place of virtue.

    • #24
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:37 am
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  25. Member

    Here’s a key point. In the popular mind, Yale doesn’t represent achievement; it represents privilege.

    And the elephant in the room is affirmative action.

    Some people who get into the ivies get in strictly because of merit. More power to them. But lots of others get in because of money and connections, or because they’re members of a “special” class. Normal Americans feel this. And they feel dissed.

    They also have an intuitive sense that brains aren’t everything. There’s also grit and determination and a kind of simplicity of mind and heart that give a person insight and moral seriousness. And sometimes those are just what’s wanted.

    • #25
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:40 am
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  26. Member

    It’s not the college. It’s not the credentials. It’s the smug insularity what gets under my skin.

    But right now I’m reading I Am Charlotte Simmons. That’ll curl your hair, to be sure.

    • #26
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:49 am
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  27. Inactive

    And which Ivy graduated Abe Lincoln? I forget now. Also, Harry Truman? Ronald Reagan? I’m still looking for virtue in my candidates. Maybe I should change my handle to Diogenes?

    • #27
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:50 am
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  28. Podcaster
    Ottoman Umpire For what it’s worth, I can’t recall actually having seen an ad that puts a candidate’s education at the forefront…

    Not so much TV, but a lot in print, especially direct mail. I think katievs nails it.

    Cas Balicki: The point being O’Donnell’s Campaign is local and not national…

    Which is a point well taken. If Coon’s campaign is waging a talking points effort on talk radio and other media disparaging O’Donnell’s education, then it behooves her to defend it.

    Sometimes we all get caught up in playing arm-chair pundit…

    But it’s like Diane’s earlier post today of the child psychologist telling everyone how to raise a prodigy. Sometimes we give the “experts” too much sway into our lives.

    • #28
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:51 am
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  29. Member

    I know high school drop-outs that have more sense than most “Yalies,” and probably earn more money too. Where one went to school doesn’t matter.

    In order to win this election, all that is required is to look into the camera and state that You’ll vote to repeal the monstrosity that is Obamacare, and vote to cut taxes. Stating anything else is wading into unnecessary waters.

    • #29
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:53 am
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  30. Inactive

    Elliot Spitzer received his JD from H.. While AG of NY he whored around while prosecuting prostitution cases, which he chose to ensure were high profile. When he was Governor this was discovered. None of this says anything about Ivy League schools. The fact that after he resigned, as Governor, he was invited to lecture at the ethics center at H. does. I just can’t imagine why some people get a sour taste in their mouths when they think about the Ivy League. WFB had it right. I’ll choose my leaders out of the phonebook. I’m in the phonebook-I’m you!

    • #30
    • October 13, 2010 at 5:58 am
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