How Far Generalities Take You

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Nov 29, 2008 3:04 PM
Reacting to a David Brooks column that excitedly heralded the Obama administration as a "valedictocracy" stuffed with Ivy League credentials,
Joseph Epstein has written an essay in The Weekly Standard characterizing the products of America's most elite universities as little more than A-grabbing, soulless mediocrities.

In many cases, he's right.  And I, too, took issue with Brooks' column here, pointing out that "book smarts" don't necessarily equate with "life smarts" or, for that matter, most of the qualities essential to really fine leadership.

But just as there is a danger in Brooks' uncritical acceptance of the idea that elite degrees confer merit, there is a danger that the rest of us can adopt a knee-jerk anti-elitist stance that's almost as ill-advised.  Just as it's snobbish and wrong to laugh at Sarah Palin for having attended the University of Idaho, it's likewise wrong (and as reverse-snobbish) to sneer at and discount someone else who attended Yale.

Of course, a lot of the time, stereotypes (like those about the Ivy League) contain some grain of truth.  But as with everything else in life, generalities only inform so much.  Both the elitists and the anti-elitists have to come to terms with the fact that Obama advisors will (and should) be judged on their own merits and performance alone.