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Works and Days

Our Not So Best and Not So Brightest

August 12th, 2012 - 11:00 pm

From Eliot Spitzer to Elizabeth Warren to Fareed Zakaria — what is wrong with our elites? Do they assume that because they are on record for the proverbial people, or because they have been branded with an Ivy League degree, or because they are habitués of the centers of power between New York and Washington, or because they write for the old (but now money-losing) blue-chip brands (Time magazine, the New York Times, etc.), or because we see them on public and cable TV, or because they rule us from the highest echelons of government that they are exempt from the sorts of common ethical constraints that the rest of us must adhere to — at least if a society as sophisticated as ours is to work?

I understand that there is a special genre of conservative Christian hypocrites — a Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, or Ted Haggard — who preach fire and brimstone about the very sins they indulge in.  The Republican primary was in some ways a circus as the media had a field day pointing out the ethical inconsistencies of the candidates. But here I am talking about secular elites across the cultural spectrum who simply do not live by their own rules, and yet are often granted exemption for their transgressions because of their own liberal piety — and a more calibrated assumption that the world of blue America (i.e., the media, the government, the arts, the foundations, the legal profession, and Hollywood) will not hold them to account.

Take affirmative action. Over-the-top and crude Ward Churchill at least bought the buckskin and beads to play out his con as an American Indian activist with various other associated academic frauds. But Elizabeth Warren’s “Cherokee”-constructed pedigree was far more subtle — and the sort of lie that Harvard could handle. She more wisely kept to the fast lane of tasteful liberal one-percenters, as she parlayed a false claim of Indian ancestry into a Harvard professorship. So whereas Churchill is now a much-lampooned figure, Warren may be headed to the U.S. Senate. To say that Elizabeth Warren is and was untruthful, and yet was a law professor who was supposed to inculcate respect for our jurisprudence, is to incur the charge of being a right-wing bigot.  But reflect: how can someone who faked an entire identity — and one aimed at providing an edge in hiring to the disadvantage of others — not be completely ostracized? Again, Warren was successful precisely because she wore no beads or headband and did not affect a tribal name — the sort of hocus-pocus that makes faculty lounge liberals uncomfortable. It was precisely because she looked exactly like a blond, pink Harvard progressive that Warren’s constructed minority fraud was so effective.

Why would a Fareed Zakaria lift the work of someone else? Time constraints? Carelessness? Amnesia over how and why he reached his present perch? Do such columnists farm out their research or outlines to assistants? Or do they think their liberal credentials outweigh reasonable audit of what they write? Steal from someone else and take a month off work? Even my copper wire thieves out here on the farm would have to pay a bit more if they were caught. Their last theft was about $70 worth of conduit, but I imagine Time pays lots more per Zakaria column.

Or why did Maureen Dowd think she could lift some sentences from someone else and then claim she got them from a friend’s email — especially given her hyper-criticism of less-liberal others? And did she not guess rightly that no one would really care? After all, do we remember the Pulitzer Prize winning Team of Rivals or the fact that far earlier Doris Kearns Goodwin was a confessed plagiarist? When I pick up the Selma Enterprise, I do not expect the cub reporter to steal her report of a DUI accident verbatim from the Fresno Bee. Should I?

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