Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Gilded ghettos

I'd like to draw your attention to this message from my friend Robert Bidinotto, which he posted on his facebook page. It deserves wider distribution than his mailing list, and his web site is hors de combat after the hosting company fraked up.

Underneath I'm going to indulge myself in some sour grapes. Or at least that's what some may say.

Lest you think Robert is indulging himself in some of those, I'll point out here that wa-a-a-ay back, Robert was the writer who broke the "Willie Horton" story in Reader's Digest during the Bush/Dukakis campaign.

And by the way, Robert NEVER referred to the oft-incarcerated psycho as anything but "William Horton."

Robert wrote:

In Defense of the "Right-Wing Populists"

by Robert James Bidinotto

Jonah Goldberg—the undeniably intellectual author of Liberal Fascism—criticizes those intellectual weenies, both left and right, who attack talk-show host Glenn Beck and other right-wing populists, including Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Partiers. (See his article here: http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2009/10/column-in-defense-of-glenn-beck-.html )

I'm with Goldberg on this.

I've spent most of my professional life within the right-wing think-tank world. Sadly, in my experience, the majority of the wonks and theorists who populate this mini-universe live in the rarified air of theoretical abstractions severed from real-world experience—that is to say, totally inside their own skulls. Many have migrated straight from grad schools into think tanks, without the invaluable rite of passage provided by a job out in the competitive marketplace. As a result, they have become cocooned in a self-selected world of other intellectuals, and many are uncomfortable around those who don't share their bookish preoccupations. This causes an interesting cultural tension for right-wing intellectuals. As a point of ideological faith, they profess to like "Americans," at least in the abstract—but they despise most of the concrete examples of Americans whom they encounter in the streets and shops.

Read conservatives such as David Frum, David Brooks, and Peggy Noonan, or even some prominent denizens of libertarian think tanks. Such right-wing intellectuals are about as disconnected from Main Street America as are left intellectuals. Their alienation from their nation's citizens finds expression in constant, condescending contempt toward people like Sarah Palin and "Joe the Plumber," toward rank-and-file Tea Party activists, and toward the talk-show champions of Main Street America, like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Levin. Such people, they sniff, are so intellectually impoverished, so unrefined, so lacking in Ivy League nuance and subtlety.

I sense that such conservative intellectuals would love to spend hours at a Georgetown dinner party trading bon mots with a smooth and refined progressive like Barack Obama, or exchanging light-hearted barbs with a quick-witted left-wing comic like Jon Stewart. But they wouldn't be caught dead with a beer in their hands at a barbecue hosted by Sarah, Joe, or Glenn.

Many have noted that America seems to be undergoing a political realignment. But I think that's merely one part of a much broader cultural realignment. It's a realignment of American society based on fundamentally clashing values. And this value-conflict reveals itself in a host of other profound differences—in lifestyle preferences, personal priorities, and social-class affinities.

Of course, the most public manifestation of this great divide can be seen in the political arena. There, we're witnessing an all-out attempt by arrogant, technocratic know-it-alls to take over our lives, our social institutions, and entire industries, and to run them strictly according to their pet theoretical systems. Educated at the best universities, comfortably surrounded by other anointed members of the Establishment elite, they believe they know how to manage the lives and affairs of ordinary Americans far, far better than those little people can do for themselves. Meanwhile, Main Street America is righteously rebelling against this self-appointed aristocracy, and popular figures like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin are giving eloquent voice to their cries of protest.

In this pivotal battle for individual freedom, those intellectuals on the right who align themselves with the power-hungry elites, rather than with the beleaguered citizenry, are akin to the Tories who betrayed their fellow colonists and supported the coercive Crown during the American Revolution.

As for me, I'll gladly leave the parasitical aristocrats to their glittering cocktail parties, preferring to stand outside in the streets with the protesting crowds bearing signs, torches, and pitchforks. It's an easy choice, because not only do I know which side is right, but also which side will ultimately win.

The author is online at www.RobertTheWriter.com, www.facebook.com/bidinotto, and www.ecoNOT.com.

I replied:



I've refrained from bitching about this too much, because it'd sound like sour grapes, but...

A few years back I returned from 13 years living and working in Eastern Europe (Poland, Bulgaria, Serbia, with frequent visits to the Baltic States and points east) with a good working knowledge of Polish and street competence in a few other Slavic languages. I was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights for my work with Serbian dissidents. I ran money to Belarusian dissidents, founded the Liberty English Camps (now operating in a half-dozen countries around the world,) been in a few truly hairy situations, and have been kicked with honest-to-God jack boots and beaten with real rubber truncheons. (They're not all rubber, they have a steel rod inside.)

I thought, thought I, with my education, accomplishments, and experience, I should be working with think tanks and foundations dedicated to spreading liberty throughout the world.

So I applied in a number of places over 3-4 years. The responses usually went through three stages: 1) initial enthusiasm, followed by 2) rapidly cooling ardor, and 3) excuses for not hiring me.

"Oh Steve, we thought with your experience you'd be bored in this position." (Real example.)

Now, I don't actually know, but it occurred to me that since most of these positions would have had me working for people who in your description, "have migrated straight from grad schools into think tanks, without the invaluable rite of passage provided by a job out in the competitive marketplace," they might have a problem hiring someone who's been some places and done some stuff.

Or as my (Polish) wife asked, "Who are these children who keep calling you?"

I did get a paid internship through the conservative National Journalism Foundation, which placed me at Human Events for three months. I had a ball and made some good friends - but you're right. Inside-the-Beltway people often have more in common with their inside-the-Beltway opposite numbers on the Left than they do with their alleged constituency outside the Beltway.

Victor Davis Hanson called the right-wing think tanks, "gilded ghettos."

Amen. Every time I hear that yet another libertarian or conservative think tank has moved "up" to offices inside the Beltway I think, "Another casualty in the war for liberty."

Or maybe that should be "defection."


Robert's comment: "Maybe Victor Davis Hanson is so sane because he’s a farmer, as well as an academic, and not afraid to get dirt under his fingernails."



On reflection it occurs to me that the inside-the-Beltway crowd is actually out of touch with the real Washington as well.

Three months in D.C. I stayed in a nice little flat behind the Supreme Court, a five-minute walk away from the office. From Capitol Hill, out to Dupont Circle and Embassy Row in one direction, to Foggy Bottom in another is it's own little world, kept reasonably safe by at least three separate police forces (D.C., Metro, and Capitol Hill P.D.) and innumerable private security agencies.

A 20-minute walk in another direction, or a 3-5 stop ride on the metro, and you were in a different world entirely. (Which then changes back around Silver Springs.) Even within the metro system you are in a different city if you get on the green line.

D.C. is an island of calm surrounded by a sea of barbarism the insiders have zero contact with, and though they're aware of it, they prefer not to think of it. (I was told, "If you live on Capitol Hill, you have to, have to, send your kids to private school." No elaboration needed.)

And weirdly, on weekends inner D.C. has the quiet deadness of a small town on Sunday.

P.S. For those who know D.C. - apologies if the geography is vague. I never got a sense of spatial location there, which kind of makes the point...


  • At 7:52 AM, Blogger Shimmy said…

    Great post. Still, don't you think it's a little suspicious that Glenn Beck NEVER talks anymore about all those dogs (Pit Bulls) he tortured and killed?

  • At 11:35 AM, Blogger Steve said…

    Is there a Vick-type scandal in Blenn Beck's past?

    I know he had a conversion experience (unfortunately to the one of the weirder Christian sects.) So if this is true, I'd guess a reason he never talks about it would be that he's ashamed of it.

  • At 9:48 PM, Blogger Schmedlap said…

    You know, I agree with every word of that. I applied for a think tank internship in 2006. It was one whose name many people would recognize. I was considered for a position assisting an individual whom I sure almost everyone would recognize the name of. During the interview, I quickly saw that my "internship" was not going to be all that intellectually stimulating. The interviewers seemed to sense that I was a tad overqualified for the job - not due to my academic credentials, but because of my real world experience. I don't know if I would have gotten the position or not. I concluded the interview by asking them to remove me from consideration. The consensus from the panel (I'm paraphrasing) was, "yeah, that's probably a good idea."


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