Obama’s best and brightest

David Brooks praises Obama’s “valedictocracy” with their Columbia, Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Stanford pedigrees: The “best and the brightest” are in charge.

Seven years ago, Brooks complained in The Atlantic about hard-working, ambitious and vapid Ivy League students in The Organization Kid.

Joseph Epstein, who teaches good students at Northwestern, distrusts the type. They may be bright but they’re rarely deep, he writes. They’ll do anything to get ahead.

To have been accepted at one of the top schools means that a child has done what he was told, followed instructions, kept his eye on the prize, played the game, and won. But does it mean much more?

Speaking as a retired good student and the mother of a good student, I don’t think knowing how to play the academic game precludes genuine intellect though it doesn’t guarantee it either.

Who’s the dullest? People born between 1961 and 1965 posted the lowest NAEP and SAT scores, writes Robert Pondiscio on Core Knowledge Blog.

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  1. wahoofive says:

    A “retired good student”; I like that.

  2. The one thing to be wary of with these types is what I call the “Whiz Kid” syndrome, named after the bunch Kennedy brought in with him in 1960. These whiz kids sometimes assumed because they were more intelligent than the people around them, they had more information than the people around them.

    The classic (and tragic) case of this was the whiz kids at DoD during the debate over the adoption of the M16 rifle. They were locking horns with the Army Ordinance group over the type of rifle needed to equip the troops. The Army wanted a more traditional, longer range weapon with a heavier bullet, while the DoD favored Armalite’s AR15 (which, with modifications, would become the M16). The decision was made to adopt the AR15, and Army Ordinance presented a list of modifications to make the weapon acceptible for Army service.

    One of the requested changes was chrome plating of the barrel and chamber. The Army realized that this would prevent jamming and malfunctions since it presented residue from the burnt propellant from building up. The other change was that a cleaning kit be developed for deployment with the weapon. Both changes were vetoed by the whiz kids at the DoD because they thought the Army was playing politics.

    The whiz kids thought they knew better, and they got people killed because of it. Soldiers were given an inadequate weapon and sent out to fight, and some of them died when their weapon jammed in the middle of a firefight.

    In general, trying to pick the best and brightest is a good thing, but I hope Obama has been looking out for people who have the wisdom to realize that, even though they’re highly intelligent, other, less intelligent people might have more information than they do.

  3. The architects of the Iraq War were a bunch of Ivy alumni too:
    -Donald Rumsfeld (Princeton)
    -Paul Wolfowitz (Cornell undergrad, Chicago Ph.D.)
    -Dick Cheney (started out at Yale)
    -Paul Bremer (Yale undergrad, Harvard MBA)

    Would David Brooks include these gentlemen in his “best and brightest” label?

  4. CW –

    Of course not. Obama’s best and brightest are obviously so because they graduated from the right schools *and* picked the right political party.

  5. tim-10-ber says:

    The best and the brightest are not necessarily what we need — more education wonks who have never been in the real world and live only in the world of theory—hmmm…

  6. Bill Leonard says:

    Quincy, the whiz kid concept started with a radio quiz show in the 40s. It was appropriated by commentators who looked at the Kennedy administration.

    As far as the ‘best and brightest’ idea goes with the incoming administration, for the most part Hopey McChange (with thanks to the estimable Christopher Hitchens) has appointed Clinton administration retreads.

    I can’t wait…


  7. Yes,those horrid Clinton retreads who helped preside over eight years of prosperity and peace relative to what we have now. What could Obama be thinking?


  8. Andy Freeman says:

    > horrid Clinton retreads who helped preside over eight years of prosperity and peace relative to what we have now.

    They pissed away the “end of cold war” dividend, set up the mortgage crisis (and spent the next 8 years defending the bomb that they’d set), and didn’t see the rise of Islamic militance.

    That’s quite a trifecta.

  9. CharterMom says:

    Grrrr! This assumption that because you’ve got a bunch of Ivy League graduates you’ve got the best and the brightest drives me insane. Not all smart people went to Ivy League schools. Some of the smartest people I’ve known never even finished college.

    In the interest of full disclosure — I admit I’ve got an axe to grind here. I was accepted to an Ivy but decided to go elsewhere because I had a full-ride 4 year scholarship. So instead of having my parents lay out the Ivy League bucks or going into hock up to my neck, I went to the other “good” school, got a great education and graduated debt-free. Does it make me less intelligent?

    Also folks need to remember that in the late 70’s (when many of these folks attended) the Ivies also were looking for a population that was diverse (before it was a buzzword) As a result since there were less applicants to Columbia from say kids from Hawaii than from kids from Westchester, it was easier for the Hawaiian to get in than the Westchester kid. So given two kids of equal ability the Hawaiian might get in while the Westchester kid didn’t. They were both smart — but the Hawaiian had the luck of the remote location.

    The same thing exists today in our state university system here in NC — it’s easier for a kid from a more remote county to get into UNC than for a kid from Chapel Hill.

  10. CharterMom –

    I truly doubt than the people who graduated from the ivies and then went on to academic or public service careers are truly the best and brightest the human race has to offer. They’re smart, to be sure, but to be one of the best and brightest of a race of over $6 billion takes more than being able to compete at an Ivy-league school.

    The problem with these types, like I mentioned earlier, is “Whiz Kid” syndrome, where *they* believe they are the best and brightest and therefore assume they have all the information they need. It’s happened before, and it cost soldiers’ lives. I’d hate to see it happen again.