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Why Smart People are Liberals

Because they think they're perfect.

By Petrarch  |  March 30, 2011

From time to time, a study comes out showing that liberals are better educated, more intelligent, and generally all-round more successful people than conservatives.  The liberal media loves to crow about this "proof" that they and their cocktail buddies really are the best and the brightest they always thought they were; conservatives grouse about leftist bias in media and academia and move on.

What neither side considers is that these studies may actually be right - but indicate something quite different from what they assume.

The Smartest Guy (or Girl) in the Room?

Set aside for a moment the question of liberal voters, and consider only the leaders of leftism - high officials of the Democratic party, media personalities and journalists, professors and administrators of major colleges, high-powered trial lawyers and union officials.  Other than their political beliefs, what unites this group in similarity?

For the overwhelming majority, their formative years were spent in elite colleges.  Bill Clinton went to Georgetown, Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, and Yale Law School where he met his wife.  Barack Obama reportedly attended Occidental College, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School.  For some peculiar reason, though, not too many people remember knowing him there whereas Slick Willie cut rather a wide collegiate swath.

On down the list, virtually every major leftist is an alumnus of our finest non-technical educational institutions.  The obvious rejoinder is to complain that our modern Ivy League indoctrinates its pupils in statist liberalism no matter what they come in believing, and that's true - Hillary worked for Barry Goldwater's campaign before a long stint in the Ivy League converted her to a fervent supporter of "Mr. Liberal" George McGovern.

As biased as they may be, it is a fact that our leading colleges are stuffed full of smart brains, both in the faculty and the student body.  There's a reason they're considered the best, and not just by their own propaganda.

Is there something else that might induce these very, very bright kids to believe a philosophy that is false on its face, and which the lowliest ordinary worker can perceive to be untrue?

Yes, there is.

A diploma just as meaningful as Harvard's.

The Humility of Failure

Every year at about this time, newspapers and magazines fill with guides as to how to get your kid into an elite college, the assumption being that an Ivy League degree is a surefire path to wealth and power.  This isn't entirely true, but it certainly does improve the odds.

Given that every kid with half a brain or an ambitious parent is trying to get into Harvard, it follows that Harvard can be very, very, very picky as to who they let in.  In fact, you almost have to be Ms. Perfect to get an admissions letter from the top institutions; the application packets of some of these high-school kids read more like a resume for Secretary of State.

Even the slightest glitch can doom your kids application, so the diligent parent moves heaven and earth to ensure there is not one.  And that's the key:

These kids have never been allowed to experience personal failure.

Arrested for underage drinking?  Mom and Dad beat the cops back to the police station with lawyer in tow.  Didn't quite make honor roll one semester?  An unscheduled parent-teacher conference, and Teacher wears some nice new jewelry next week.  Not making it in Spanish class?  A summer in Mexico should do the trick!

The hallmark of our current reigning elites of both parties, almost all veterans of our finest colleges, is that they assume that they are smart enough to run the world and tell everyone what to do.

Why?  Because that's the way it's been their entire life.

The Unfailing Bureaucrat

Most of these people have spent the bulk of their career in government where there really is no such thing as failure.  Bureaucrats never fail, they just didn't get enough taxpayer money.  Politicians do lose elections, but generally because the other guy lied or the voters were too stupid to understand what was best for them.

The careers where conservatives often end up - business or the military - have no such cover.  If your business goes bankrupt, you have failed and everyone, including yourself, knows it.  If your brigade is defeated or has casualties, you have failed.  Not one single businessman or military leader, ever, has led a career without the salutary experience of failure.  In fact, military training is intentionally designed to cause failure so that future leaders will learn how to accept it, deal with it, and come back stronger to ultimate success.

Consider Donald Trump, one of America's most famous and successful businessmen, who's considering a run for President.  He certainly acts full of himself and as arrogant as our politicians, but with him, it is merely an act.  He viscerally knows he can fail: he very nearly did back in the early 90s when several of his companies went bankrupt and his own net worth was estimated as being many millions in the negative.

Yes, he's smart, and he knows it; but he doesn't think he's perfect.  In order to have achieved what he has, he knows his limitations and he knows when to listen to dissenting advice - as every successful leader must, because it's impossible for any one person to know everything and to be right all the time.

How about our elites, the products of our elite colleges?  Here's what a professor at Yale and Columbia has to say:

I’ve had many wonderful students at Yale and Columbia, bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it’s been a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul...

The ability to engage in introspection, I put it to my students that day, is the essential precondition for living an intellectual life, and the essential precondition for introspection is solitude. They took this in for a second, and then one of them said, with a dawning sense of self-awareness, “So are you saying that we’re all just, like, really excellent sheep?”

Yes.  If there's one phrase that describes our national elites and so-called leaders, it's "arrogant sheep."  They all think alike, they all act alike.  None of them could ever conceive of the possibility that they might be wrong or that "lesser people" might be right.  Since they run the government, naturally the government should tell everyone what to do.  After all, they are the government, and they know everything.  Don't their diplomas say so?

In other words, their entire life experience is the very definition of statist liberalism: they are the best, and they do know better than everyone else, so it's only proper that they force everyone else to do what they say - for their own good of course.  After all, they went to Harvard or Yale, where everyone knows only the smartest super-geniuses go - as they remind themselves every day.

People that smart couldn't ever be wrong - and if you disagree with them, then ipso facto, you are wrong by definition!  How dare you question your betters, peasant?  Shut up and get back in line!

Following Lambs to the Slaughter

That, perhaps, is why Sarah Palin is such an existential threat to our self-anointed rulers.  It's also large part of why your humble correspondent finds her so appealing despite some misgivings.

Ms. Palin famously did not go to an elite college - she bounced around from second-rate institution to third-rate institution, doing such ostentatiously pedestrian things as playing basketball and winning beauty contests, getting a journalism degree, and working as a sports broadcaster.  How much further from Hillary Clinton's formative years is it possible to get?  How much closer is Sarah Palin to reality?

Yet Ms. Palin knows true success in a way that an Ivy Leaguer never can, because unlike our elites, everything Ms. Palin has ever received she has earned against ferocious opposition.  Our elites may have earned their way into Harvard by hard work, toeing the line, and parental connections, but once in, they're in a club that no sin can get them kicked out of.  People like Sarah Palin, as the old Eastern Airlines slogan had it, "have to earn their wings every day."

So they do - and in doing so, they come to know the limits of their own selves, of human nature, and of power in general.  Our current elites recognize no limits to their own brilliance and wisdom, to the power of government, or to the obligation of lesser beings to do as they're told.

In their limitless arrogance and self-absorption, they're leading us off a cliff from which all their brainpower and fancy degrees cannot save them or us.

It will take an extraordinary ordinary person who understands reality and what really matters.  Saving our nation requires a kind of reality-based person entirely absent from the Ivy League and almost entirely missing from our leadership elites for many decades - really, since Ronald Reagan.

Maybe that's why our country has been on a downhill slide - well, since the departure from this earth of Ronald Reagan.  He never had a fancy degree and the elites hated him for it, but his firm grounding in reality made him the greatest president of the 20th century.