Scrap at Yale Highlights New Social Divide: Global Elites Vs. Populist Realists

A few months back, the brilliant and flawed David Brooks said that blue/red was giving way to a new divide in American society that would play out in ideology and partisan politics: globalist interventionist elites on one side, populist isolationist realists on the other. Hillary Clinton v. Chuck Hagel.

I was reminded of Brooks’s great insight watching a panel yesterday on C-Span of a December 8 conference at Yale on the Senate battle between Lamont and Lieberman, won by the wily Lieberman.

The panel was marked by a vituperative exchange between Liebermanite Lanny Davis, late of the Monica wars, and Lamontite Bill Hillsman of North Woods media, the populist genius behind Jesse Ventura. When Hillsman, wearing a striped western shirt, with his gut spilling proudly, called Lieberman a great liar who lacked independence, Davis in his blue suit became agitated and started yelling at the other panelist. When Hillsman accused mainstream Democrats of “sandbagging” Lamont by holding off on information and aid—in essence, dithering over its commitment to the official party nominee—Davis became apoplectic and prosecutorial. “Name names,” he kept shouting. A former Connecticut Democratic party chair (whose name I didn’t get) then named names, saying that Chuck Schumer and Bill Clinton had vacillated. Davis got even angrier, saying it was hearsay.

A good show. And it hardly mattered that the campaign was 6 weeks old. The wound is raw. David Brooks is dead on.

A few comments.

1. Brooks is an exponent of the globelites (as I am of the isopops); and let’s be clear, his elite truly is an elite right now: it’s a tiny minority. How many people maybe want to invade Iran? Or continue to rationalize the invasion of Iraq as a smart idea? Show of hands, please. Yet this elite is behind the wheel.

2. Brooks is our most sociological pundit, god bless him; but he is given to indirection, and he did not have the cojones to throw in my favorite metric, Jewishness. Lanny Davis is a classic arrived Jew; he broke ground in the 90s (along with me and Brooks and all the other Jewish meritocrats) and flowered in the establishment under the philosemitic Clinton. I have to assume Davis’s view of Israel is diaspora-nationalist. Like the views of the Jewish financial heavies who left the Democratic party to stick with Lieberman. Like the views of Senator Lieberman’s new in-law, Harvard’s Ruth Wisse (rhymes with Weiss), a Jewish particularist to a faretheewell.

3. One of Brooks’s professed idols is the late E. Digby Baltzell. The Penn sociologist will be forever famous for coining the term “WASP” in the 60s to describe the then-ruling elite. Forty years later, Brooks came up with his own acronym to describe the new elite: Bobos (for Bohemian bourgeois). Baltzell’s acronym stuck, Brooks’s is fast fading. Why? Bobos lacked WASP’s sting. Bobos was a soft, lifestyle metric: Latte drinkers of the information age. By eliding the Jewishness of the new elite—and yes, Jews are just a component of the establishment, but a significant one—Brooks fell painfully short of his model.

Let’s honor Baltzell’s great work. In naming the WASPs, he turned on his own people, deriding them as a “caste” that was holding on to status—which Baltzell defined then as corporate exec positions and club memberships—in defiance of the talented. The elite must represent the true talents of the society, Baltzell said. Who were those talents? Jews, he said; brilliant Jews, lamentably camped in “gilded ghettoes,” outside the establishment. Let them in! thundered the assimilationist Baltzell. And America did. Baltzell was blunt about the role of religion in elite culture; his 1964 classic was titled, The Protestant Establishment.

In Brooks’s book Bobos In Paradise, there are countless reference to WASPs, as the bad old order. 12 lines in his index for WASPs. 0 for Jews (who are only glanced upon in the text). I know why Brooks doesn’t want to talk about Jewishness, let alone turn on his elite. He worries, as many of my intellectual friends do, about the pogroms that will take place in Des Moines the minute the media elite say what any boob watching CSpan accepts: Jews are an empowered group, and deservedly.

J’accuse. By maintaining silence on this important matter that is close to their hearts, these journalists have violated their American oath: to inform the people.

As Brooks showed, and the Lamont-Lieberman debate confirms, this is a huge and important divide. Inasmuch as the globelite cannot admit that the war in Iraq was a tragic error, at a time when midstream America has come solidly to that conclusion, the elite is growing estranged from public opinion, and thereby violating Baltzell’s democratic principle, that it’s OK and necessary to have a ruling elite, but it must be representative. This divide plays out in terms of the Jewish presence in American public life. The Jewish leadership is globelite all the way. It is more implicated in the disastrous Iraq decisionmaking than the realists, and less implicated in the war’s grimmest consequences (there are more Buddhists than Jews in the armed forces, as I reported). Lamont/Lieberman was one wedge. Now comes another: Talk to Syria. Any realist will tell you we have to do that; the (largely non-Jewish) Iraq Study Group said so too. But Jewish leadership is against it. Bush will be too—next year. To be continued.