Our native ruling class

  • 6 February 2018
  • NormanL
Swamp creatures are born that way

In these posts, we sometimes use the term "political class" to describe the men and women who are elected to, or are otherwise a permanent part of, our government. Some choose to use the term "ruling class," which is a phrase that conjures images of an elite that rules by right. National Review's Kevin Williamson offers an example of the stronger, "ruling class" term, and how it undercuts any claims official Washington may make about its diversity. His example: the Congressional Black Caucus:

I considered the case of the Congressional Black Caucus because race (and sex, and sometimes religion and sexuality) is what we usually are talking about when we talk about “diversity.” But what you’ll notice about the Congressional Black Caucus is that its members have a great deal more in common with the general run of representatives and senators than they do with statistically typical black Americans. Much more likely to be law-school graduates, of course, but throw in one or two other variables — degrees in public administration or backgrounds in public-school management — and you’ll cover a substantial majority of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Only 17.7 percent of African Americans 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree. All but a handful of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus do. Yvette Clarke was elected before finishing her bachelor’s degree at Oberlin (a matter of some controversy during the campaign) and Donald Payne Jr. attended Kean University but did not finish his degree. Here, Congress at large and the Congressional Black Caucus much more closely mirror one another than either does the general population. About 95 percent of members of Congress have at least a bachelor’s degree, while only one in three Americans holds a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Representatives Clarke and Payne have something in common with one another that also is much more typical of a member of Congress than a member of the general public: Representative Clarke entered politics by taking over a New York city council seat that had been held by her mother, while Representative Payne holds a seat held before by his father. Congress is full of second- and third-generation officeholders: Rand Paul (son of a congressman), Darin LaHood (lawyer, son of a congressman), Lisa Murkowski (lawyer, daughter of a senator and governor), Shelley Moore Capito (daughter of a governor), Tom Udall (son of a congressman and cabinet secretary, nephew of a congressman, cousin of a senator, and, inevitably, a lawyer), etc. In 2015, Greg Giroux put the number of senators and representatives with a parent who had served in Congress at 20.

You can dice the demographics however you like, and you’ll generally come up with similar findings: Fifty-seven percent of the gay members of Congress are lawyers, 50 percent of the wealthiest members of Congress are lawyers, 50 percent of the women in the Senate are lawyers, etc. (Only one third of the Arab Americans in Congress are lawyers.)

Highly educated, and a little bit dynastic, to boot. Then there's the kicker:

Indeed, one of the creepy and dispiriting experiences typical of Washington is meeting the new deputy undersecretary of this or that and realizing that this bright-eyed and intelligent person has been preparing . . . his entire life . . . for that role.

Washingtonians don’t get turned into what they are by having lunch with some lobbyists. The terrifying truth is that they show up that way.

In another time and place, they would have been called "mandarins." 

Maybe we'll just settle on "ruling class," instead.