Are We An Oligarchy?

Is it time, or past time, to rewrite the words to the National Anthem–something  like, “Oh, say can you see?/We’re an oli-gar-chy!”?

I ask the question and offer the lame lyrics partly because President Obama’s nomination of a Supreme Court Justice had me wondering about the justices’  academic background.  With regard to law schools, here’s the breakdown:

Happy Go Lucky Thomas: Yale; Ginsburg: Started at Harvard, finished at Columbia [in NYC, not South America, oh very funny]; Swingin’ Sam Alito: Yale;  Anthony “Not That Kind Of” Kennedy: Harvard; Mr. Subtlety Scalia: Harvard; Ice Cream Breyer: Harvard; Smiling Sotomayor: Yale; Kagan: Harvard.  Justice Stevens attended Northwestern School of Law–on the GI Bill.

Are Harvard and Yale just that good?  Are they good about also part of a self-fulfilling, ever-inwardly-spiraling  system of ranking.  “Well, you know, all the best people graduate from Yale and Harvard,” said the powerful man who graduated from Yale and attended Harvard Law.

If they are that good, in what way(s) are they “that good”?  Are graduates of law schools in California, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington, and Virginia (for examples) measurably deficient in comparison?  What’s the system of measurement? How much are  the current law-school affiliations on the Supreme Court owing to “quality” (and by what standards?) and how much to an Old Boy System that now includes Old Girls?

Asking myself these questions, I then moved on to wondering about the narrowness of background in the rest of our government, towards and at the top.   How many presidents sprang either from the Ivy League or from patrician backgrounds?  How may Representatives and Senators are lawyers?  (Something 30% of the H. of R. consists of lawyers, whereas over at the Senate, about 60% of the body politic consists of lawyers.)  How much of the Senate is white, male, and wealthy–with strong previous ties to powerful financial or corporate entities and/or with relatively new ties to same via lobbying and campaign financing?

All of which led to me to ask, “Are we an oligarchy?”  After which, I heard the question, “What do you mean ‘we,” Buster?  Do you have some political power in your back pocket I don’t know about?”

In other words, I don’t sense that I’m part of the power that runs the country, and I guess my answer to the question is, “Yes, the U.S. government is an oligarchy.”  But it’s just a guess.  Yes, yes, I know “we” are allegedly a republic that operates according to people granting representatives power, but that seems more fairy tale than fact. . . .

. . . . Two wee moments from the media world that bear on this issue:

In Barry Levinson’s documentary about the most recent presidential campaign, Levinson interviews Tucker Carlson, who for once came off as not smug.  Carlson’s major claim is that the political issues are just too complicated for most citizens and voters to understand, so that a de facto ruling elite is pretty much necessary.  But then Carlson turns to Levinson himself and says, “You probably know 60 per cent of the people who run the country.”  Levinson looks a bit sheepish but says nothing.

Arguably, Levinson is part of a Hollywood elite that, of course, has connections with people in high governmental places: that was Carlson’s point, which seemed ever so slightly to sting Levinson, who may view himself as some kind of populist.  I don’t think either Levinson or Michael Moore can qualify as populists anymore.  They’re made men.

Moment two: Chris Hayes from the Nation is talking with one of the MSNBC hosts (Olbermann, I think), and when asked about the financial reform legislation, Hayes more or less concedes that whatever legislation is passed, the “powerful financial oligarchy” will still do what it wants.  True, the Nation is a venerable, self-identified liberal magazine, so one of its writers may be more likely to see things this way.  At the same time, look how few major financial entities remain standing, and recall the recent interchange between senators and financiers.  The financiers looked a little put out, but that’s all.  It’s not like they’re afraid of the Senate, which is one rung down on the oligarchic ladder from them, says me.

“Oh, say can you see . . .?”   Apparently on the issue of an oligarchy, liberal Hayes and conservative Carlson see eye to eye.

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One Response to “Are We An Oligarchy?”

  1. American Empire and/or American Oligarchy « Politics and Language Says:

    […] Empire and/or American Oligarchy May 11, 2010 — O. In a recent post titled “Are We An Oligarchy?”, I asked, “Are we an oligarchy?”  I probably should have asked, “Should my post […]


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