Obama’s Love of Elites

The president struck a populist note in his speech, but it’s hard to tell he believes it when you look at his administration.

US President Barack Obama makes remarks before entertainment following a state dinner in honor of Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the White House in Washington on May 19, 2010.
National Journal
James Oliphant
Jan. 29, 2014, 1:22 p.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama drew ap­plause from the House cham­ber for strik­ing what seemed to be a pop­u­list blow against elit­ism in his State of the Uni­on.

“I be­lieve that here in Amer­ica, our suc­cess should de­pend not on ac­ci­dent of birth, but the strength of our work eth­ic and the scope of our dreams,” Obama said early in his re­marks.

Look­ing at his ad­min­is­tra­tion, however, you would nev­er know he be­lieves that. Yes, as the pres­id­ent poin­ted out, both he and House Speak­er John Boehner come from mod­est back­grounds. But as a gradu­ate of Har­vard Law School, Obama has shown him­self more of that stripe, stuff­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion with like-minded den­iz­ens of the Ivy League.

George W. Bush at­ten­ded Yale Uni­versity and Har­vard Busi­ness School, and his vice pres­id­ent, Dick Cheney went to Yale as well (and, yeah, he flunked out), but they car­ried chips on their shoulders about it the rest of their lives. Both felt like out­siders among the East­ern elite. Obama in­stead has em­braced that cul­ture like few pres­id­ents be­fore him.

Na­tion­al Journ­al sur­vey last year of 250 de­cision-makers in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion found that no few­er than 40 per­cent of them held Ivy League de­grees. Moreover, just one-quarter of those of­fi­cials held gradu­ate de­grees from a pub­lic uni­versity. In fact, more Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials se­cured ad­vanced de­grees from Ox­ford — you know, in Eng­land — than from any Amer­ic­an pub­lic school. And more than 60 either at­ten­ded Har­vard as an un­der­grad or a grad stu­dent.

The sur­vey also found than an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials hailed from the North­east, with the West and South severely un­der­rep­res­en­ted. Just 18 per­cent came from a state that voted for Mitt Rom­ney in 2012. As the sur­vey noted, “You’re more likely to find someone who grew up over­seas work­ing in the top ranks in the ad­min­is­tra­tion than someone who grew up in Texas.”

To be fair, not every Ivy Leaguer sports a sil­ver spoon — and Obama at times has shown an af­fin­ity for those who, like him­self, got there the hard way. One prime ex­ample is Justice So­nia So­to­may­or, the pres­id­ent’s first pick for the Su­preme Court, who at­ten­ded Prin­ceton and then Yale Law.

Still, it all sort of makes one grate­ful for the pres­ence of the two men who sat be­hind Obama on Tues­day night: Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden — a grad of the Uni­versity of Delaware (go, Fight­in’ Blue Hens) and Syra­cuse Law, where he fin­ished 76th in his class out of 85 — and Boehner, who ma­tric­u­lated from Xavi­er Uni­versity. Xavi­er, ac­tu­ally, is just down the road from Ox­ford.

Ox­ford, Ohio, that is.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4691) }}

What We're Following See More »
HEADED TO PRESIDENT’S DESK
Trade Bill Would Ban Imports Made with Slave Labor
28 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

“A bill headed for President Barack Obama this week includes a provision that would ban U.S. imports of fish caught by slaves in Southeast Asia, gold mined by children in Africa and garments sewn by abused women in Bangladesh, closing a loophole in an 85-year-old tariff law.” The Senate approved the bill, which would also ban Internet taxes and overhaul trade laws, by a vote of 75-20. It now goes to President Obama.

Source:
TRUMP UP TO 44%
Sanders Closes to Within Seven Nationally in New Poll
41 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Bernie Sanders has closed to within seven points of Hillary Clinton in a new Morning Consult survey. Clinton leads 46%-39%. Consistent with the New Hampshire voting results, Clinton does best with retirees, while Sanders leads by 20 percentage points among those under 30. On the Republican side, Donald Trump is far ahead with 44% support. Trailing by a huge margin are Ted Cruz (17%), Ben Carson (10%) and Marco Rubio (10%).

Source:
LEGACY PLAY
Sanders and Clinton Spar Over … President Obama
12 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”

THE 1%
Sanders’s Appeals to Minorities Still Filtered Through Wall Street Talk
13 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”

DIRECT APPEAL TO MINORITIES, WOMEN
Clinton Already Pivoting Her Messaging
14 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.

×