Populists against Merit and Obama

Also from the Telos blog:

No amount of spinning is going to make either Barack Obama or his wife average Americans. He is no everyman, and why should he be? He is an extraordinarily gifted member of his generation, who was offered every opportunity for success by the Meritocracy, a system of social promotion of a diverse student body based upon the standardized test…Why does meritocratic selection make Barack Obama fundamentally unpopular with white working class Americans?

Because meritocracy was designed to overturn the principles of economic and social justice, replacing redistribution of wealth with rationalized distribution of opportunity. Meritocracy breaks the promise of social and economic justice and replaces it with a form of allegedly “scientific” and progressive scholastic triage… What we are experiencing,what we have experienced in the past twenty years, is a populist revolt against this system

Why do small town citizens resent the merit system?

Rather than offering working-class Americans free tuition to our best institutions, we tracked students according to their scholastic aptitude so that we could channel the best and the brightest out of their communities and into the elite universities that would educate them to be national and international leaders.

I’m pretty sure we can’t offer free tuition to all to our best institutions.  But the fundamental point is solid.  We the meritocracy shuns rural America except as vacation or social experiment.  We train the best rural students to abandon their hometowns for a higher calling.  This is part of the dynamic commercial society. One that has always been resisted by folks on the right and left.  (see Christopher Lasch and Patrick Deneen)

We have only elected one meritocratically promoted president: Bill Clinton. Every other president was culled from the economic elites or the school of hard knocks. For some reason or other, the Republicans have become the party of the “averaged American,” and he or she will resent Obama’s polish, poise, and intelligence. The average American will identify with John McCain’s blunders and his C average—once again.

This still mystifies me.  How could the elite Bush and now McCain comes off more authentic and in touch with the white working class than Gore (also an elite), Kerry (a successful meritocrat), or Obama, once on food stamps?

Is this concern for people of color and immigrants by the Democratic Party symbolically saying FU to white working class? Have Democrats become the party for meritocrats and their beneficiaries?

…Obama is an extraordinary figure, and such an extraordinary figure should be able to mobilize and inspire voters, but why does his campaign feel as if it has to respond to Republican attacks by “bringing him down to earth”? Because, I would assert, of the reactionary and intractable power of populist resentment. (all my emphasis)

Why is meritocracy more distancing than “I could be rich” dreams that channel support for GOP elite-driven governance.  If the merit system is experiencing such a backlash, is political allegiance simply symbolic?

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