Notebook — From the March 2009 issue

Achievetrons

Few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right, rather than in comfort under one which they hold to be wrong.

—C. V. Wedgwood

President Barack Obama’s Christmas shopping for cabinet officers in December of last year prompted the national news media to rejoice in the glad tiding that his campaign slogan, “Change you can believe in,” was just and only that, a slogan. Instead of showing himself partial to “closet radicals” who might pose some sort of deep downfield threat to the status quo, Obama was choosing wisely from the high-end, happy few, dispensing with “the romantic and failed notion” that individuals never before seen on the White House lawn could provide the “maturity” needed “in a time of war and economic crisis.” David Brooks assured his readers in the New York Times that the incoming apparat, its members “twice as smart as the poor reporters who have to cover them,” embodied “the best of the Washington insiders.” “Achievetrons . . . who got double 800s on their SATs,” said Brooks, taking pains to list the schools from which they had received diplomas (Columbia, Harvard, Wellesley, Harvard Law, Stanford, Yale Law, Princeton, etc.) attesting to the worth of their wise counsel. Karl Rove, former advance man for President George W. Bush, informed the Wall Street Journal that Tim Geithner (Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins) as secretary of the Treasury and Larry Summers (M.I.T., Harvard) as director of the National Economic Council were “solid picks,” both investments rated “reassuring” and “market-oriented.” Max Boot, contributor to Commentary and visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, advised the wandering spirits in the blogosphere that “only churlish partisans of both the left and the right” could quarrel with the naming of Hillary Clinton (Wellesley, Yale Law) as secretary of state and Robert Gates (Georgetown) as secretary of defense, appointments that “could just as easily have come from a President McCain.”

The mood was not as festive in the workshops of the romantic left, but even the churls who thought the appointees insufficiently progressive in their views of the American future took comfort in the remembrance of their candidate saying somewhere in a post-election speech, “Understand where the vision for change comes from. First and foremost, it comes from me.” David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones, told the Washington Post that although the hotheads among his acquaintance were “disappointed, irritated or fit to be tied,” they held fast to the belief that Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) would set the agenda, reprogram the operatives complicit in the stupidity and cynicism of the Bush and Clinton administrations; pragmatism was the watchword, and the dawning of a bright new day was guaranteed by the installation of what Brooks proclaimed a “valedictocracy,” post-partisan and non-ideological, its shoes shined, its hair combed, its ambition neatly pressed.

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Lewis H. Lapham is the National Correspondent for Harper’s Magazine and the editor of Lapham’s Quarterly.

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