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“America Has a Ruling Class”

I agree with these points made by Samuel Goldman:

America’s most powerful people have a problem. They can’t admit that they’re powerful.

Take Andrew Cuomo. On a recent call with reporters, the embattled Mr. Cuomo insisted that he was “not part of the political club.” The assertion was confounding because Mr. Cuomo is in his third term as governor of New York — a position his father also held for three terms. Mr. Cuomo has also served as state attorney general and as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. . . .

This sort of false advertising isn’t limited to Democrats. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, for instance, has embraced an image as a populist crusader against a distant “political class.” He does not emphasize his father’s career as a banker, his studies at Stanford and Yale Law School, or his work as clerk to prominent judges, including Chief Justice John Roberts. The merits of Mr. Hawley’s positions are open to debate. But his membership in the same elite that he rails against is not.

And it’s not only politicians. Business figures love to present themselves as “disrupters” of stagnant industries. But the origins of the idea are anything but rebellious. Popularized by a Harvard professor and promoted by a veritable industry of consultants, it has been embraced by some of the richest and most highly credentialed people in the world. . . .

Part of the explanation is strategic. An outsider pose is appealing because it allows powerful people to distance themselves from the consequences of their decisions. When things go well, they are happy to take credit. When they go badly, it’s useful to blame an incompetent, hostile establishment for thwarting their good intentions or visionary plans.

Another element is generational. Helen Andrews argues that baby boomers have never been comfortable with the economic, cultural and political dominance they achieved in the 1980s. “The rebels took over the establishment,” she writes, “only they wanted to keep preening like revolutionaries as they wielded power.” . . .

America has a de facto ruling class. Since World War II, membership in that class has opened to those with meritocratic credentials. But that should not conceal the truth that it remains heavily influenced by birth. Even if their ancestors were not in The Social Register, Mr. Cuomo, Ms. Haines and Mr. Hawley were born to families whose advantages helped propel their careers. Admitting the fact of noblesse might help encourage the ideal of oblige.

But there’s a limit to what can be accomplished by exhortation. Ultimately, the change must come from the powerful themselves. Just once, I’d like to hear a mayor, governor or president say: “Yes, I’m in charge — and I’ve been trying to get here for my entire life. I want you to judge me by how I’ve used that position, not by who I am.”

I’m reminded of our discussion a few years ago about so-called rogue academics.

As Ben Folds put it, it’s no fun to be the man.

I disagree with one part of Goldman’s op-ed, though, and that’s where he seems to argue that a powerful person can’t be oppositional. For example, after quoting director of national intelligence Avril Haines as saying “I have never shied away from speaking truth to power,” Goldman says, “that is a curious way of describing a meteoric career . . .” But there’s no reason she can’t have been speaking truth to power from the inside. Saying you speak truth to power is not the same as claiming outsider status.

I say this as someone who, like Avril Haines, Josh Hawley, and Steven Levitt, who is well connected but still sometimes does things that antagonize powerful people. The point is not that it’s a virtue to be a “rogue” or whatever, just that our actions should be evaluated on their merits. And, as Goldman says, we should be open about the advantages we’ve had.

29 Comments

  1. Jonathan (another one) says:

    And as Martin Gurri has documented, the jig is up. The only people buying these claims any more are the coastal elites, both liberal and conservative, that you describe here: https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2012/02/15/some-reactions-to-charles-murrays-thoughts-on-income-and-politics/

    • Joshua says:

      Jonathan –

      > The only people buying these claims any more are the coastal elites, both liberal and conservative, that you describe here:

      A whole lotta non-coastal elites bought Trump’s nonsense about being a victimized, hard-working, truth to power speaking, working class hero who just cares about them and making America great again. Many buy it from Tucker Carlson just like they bought it from the putative Texas cow-puncher George Bush. Do you think the aforementioned Josh Hawley gets his votes from “coastal elites?”

      People buy it when they want the product that the power non-admitter wants to sell them, whether they’re “costal elites” or “hicks from fly-over country.”

      • jim says:

        Or maybe they just bought his story that asylum seekers were overrunning the border; Or maybe they bought his story that we needed a hard line on China; or his story about getting troops out of the middle east; Or maybe they foolishly believed he would appoint conservative justices; or that he would eviscerate the environmental arms of government; or his lie about cutting taxes.

        Some people….

        • Andrew says:

          Jim:

          Yes, in the U.S. we have a two-party system. To vote for candidate X, you don’t need to believe most or many or even any of the things he says, you just have to think he’ll be better than the alternative.

          That said, polls supply evidence that many people do believe heavily-promoted political nonsense, not necessarily anything about working class heroes or cow punchers, but it seems that many people don’t believe that Biden really got 81 million votes. So it’s complicated. I’d attribute the vast majority of Trump’s (and Biden’s) votes to voters legitimately believing that their preferred candidate has better policy, but belief in lies is part of the mix too.

          • jim says:

            “That said, polls supply evidence that many people do believe heavily-promoted political nonsense”

            First, presuming “believe” is an accurate characterization, is that news? That some people believe political lies?

            Second, is “believe” an accurate characterization? Is – in this case – the “belief” justifying the support for Trump, or is the support for Trump justifying the “belief?” Do people really “believe”, or are they showing solidarity with their social group and friends? Or are they just irritated by pollsters who they perceive as being on the other side?

            I just don’t see how this shows anything about what people actually believe or why they believe that we don’t already know. But I do see that it’s used relentlessly for political gossip, which seems to be its main purpose.

            • Joshua says:

              jim –

              > Is – in this case – the “belief” justifying the support for Trump, or is the support for Trump justifying the “belief?” Do people really “believe”, or are they showing solidarity with their social group and friends? Or are they just irritated by pollsters who they perceive as being on the other side?

              I think that the mechanism of “motivated reasoning” suggests generally a greater proportion of the ideological identification driving the stated beliefs (or “values”) rather than the stated beliefs (or “values”) driving the ideological identification.

              I think the causal chain is multi-factorial and multi-directional and certainly can vary by individual, but I think that as we can see with Republicans who went from seeing an individual mandate being a policy requirement of “personal responsibility” to seeing an individual mandate to being the height of tyrannical government overreach under Obama – “values” and “beliefs” can easily shift to align with ideological affiliation.

              There are myriad examples of this – on both sides of the political aisle in the US and in other contexts as well. My sense is that there’s a higher propensity for such “shifting” to take place in proportion to the extent to which people care about, and identify with, a particular identity orientation.

              • name withheld by request says:

                Interesting that you’re using Obamacare as the illustrative issue. In my own very limited social circle, there were a few individuals who reacted to Obamacare with more venom than I’ve ever seen them express over a political issue. It is (to me) a very interesting causality question as to whether something about that particular program triggered a degree of political furor not previously elicited by other issues versus a “perfect storm” of increased political polarization reaching a tipping point that happened to coincide with Obamacare as the issue of the day. A third possible explanation is that hatred of Obamacare might not have been as intense had it been championed (and named after) some other Democratic Party politician. Not including Hilary Clinton, I must say!

              • rm bloom says:

                name-withheld wrote:
                “A third possible explanation is that hatred of Obamacare might not have been as intense had it been championed (and named after) some other Democratic Party politician. Not including Hilary Clinton, I must say!”

                Thought experiment. Suppose Romney had won in 2012 and then endeavored with congress to cobble together a fix or patch to the Obama plan — say along the lines of his experience in Mass. Imagine the griping and groaning and when it was all over with and there was some plan; how secretly pleased all the rural hicks with bad knees would have been! No longer would it have been some hoity-toity black man’s plan to force them to admit they needed it just as badly as that black man’s constituents did. No sir!

              • Joshua says:

                by request –

                > In my own very limited social circle, there were a few individuals who reacted to Obamacare with more venom than I’ve ever seen them express over a political issue.

                I think that’s consistent with all the evidence that “Obamacare” was much more unpopular than the aggregation of the individual components of the “Affordable Care Act.”

                > It is (to me) a very interesting causality question as to whether something about that particular program triggered a degree of political furor not previously elicited by other issues versus a “perfect storm” of increased political polarization reaching a tipping point that happened to coincide with Obamacare as the issue of the day. A third possible explanation is that hatred of Obamacare might not have been as intense had it been championed (and named after) some other Democratic Party politician. Not including Hilary Clinton, I must say!

                I think it was probably an issue that was riding on a wave of tribalism and cross-party antipathy. Polling seems to be pretty consistent on that trend – not so much that tribalism as a general phenomenon has increased, but that the mapping of antipathy onto party identity seems to be increasing and more consolidated. Perhaps Obama as an individual, and someone who was leading the ACA initiative, pushed the wave to unprecedented heights. But I think it’s complicated – but then it looks like Trump fits into an extension of that continuum.

                If it turns out that the Biden administration coincides with a change in those trends, it might lend support to an idea that Obamacare via Obama as a mediator was something of a uniquely polarizing phenomenon, and that in some ways Trump’s polarizing effect was some kind of a continuation of responses to Obama. Certainly being the first black president would suggest that possibility as a causal mechanism.

        • Joshua says:

          jim –

          Or they bought that Mexico was going to pay for the wall, we’d have 5% GDP growth, he’d throw Hillary in jail day one, he’d eliminate the debt, he’d deliver beautiful and cheap healthcare…

          I”m not sure I get your point.

          Democratic voters believe things that are being sold to them as well. I wasn’t implying that Trump voters are unique in being suckers – only questioning the argument that the idea that the “coastal elites” are uniquely susceptible to being fooled by people denying their power. Trump is a great counter-example.

          • jim says:

            “I’m not sure I get your point.”

            My point is that it’s not news that people – conservative or liberal – “believe” political bullshit; nor is it news that people will use any readily available justification to support their existing beliefs, regardless of how much they “buy” that justification. It’s just a convenient crutch.
            =

            • Joshua says:

              jim –

              > My point is that it’s not news that people – conservative or liberal – “believe” political bullshit; nor is it news that people will use any readily available justification to support their existing beliefs, regardless of how much they “buy” that justification. It’s just a convenient crutch.

              Sure. I agree.

              So I’m not sure what the point of your comment was – as what you just said seems obvious to me, I wasn’t implying otherwise, and so your comments seems orthogonal at best.

              So it looks to me like you were reacting in support of Trump voters by saying “They do it to?” Was that your point?

              Once again, my point was with reference to the earlier comment by Jonathan, that

              > “The only people buying these claims any more are the coastal elites, both liberal and conservative,”

              My point was that there are plenty of “non-coastal elites” who buy these claims from (faux populist) public figures like Trump, Tucker Carlson, Pat Buchannon, etc. It’s not that I disagree that “coastal elites” might buy this crap – and I wasn’t saying “They do it too,” but saying “it’s not unique to them” as was stated by Jonathan.

      • Jonathan (another one) says:

        I guess I think that the the last 5 years prove Trump really *was* an outsider. And he *was* victimized. And he definitely got a lot of his support from that victimization alone, and he knew it and exploited it. (Of course the self-made stuff is utter nonsense, although I think Trump believes it. But I’m not sure the people who voted for him believe that part either.) He also teaches that when outsiders get in, it’s hard to get anything done without lots of help from insiders (eg the judges) as opposed to doing things that they oppose (ie walls.) I find Hawley’s claims laughable and transparent, and note that he hasn’t won anything yet outside of Missouri, so we don’t know what the country thinks of him. For that matter, we don’t have a great idea of what *Missouri* thinks of him yet.

        I agree with Andrew below (and you right here) that people vote for people that promise to do things that they want. That definitely does not mean they buy into the narratives that people use to describe themselves. Evangelicals know Trump paid off strippers, or ignore it, or don’t care. They voted for him anyway. Because Wharton (where he went) hates him. Because NY (where he grew up and inherited his wealth) hates him. Trump is terrible, but one of the only things authentic about him is that he is genuinely hated by the coastal elites he grew up with. That doesn’t make him a man of the people or a working class hero, except in the sense that the enemy of my enemy is my candidate.

        • Joshua says:

          Jonathan –

          > I guess I think that the the last 5 years prove Trump really *was* an outsider. And he *was* victimized.

          I dunno. I get where someone can reach those conclusions, but Trump was an actual *insider* in the political game for decades – hobnobbing with politicians and making contributions when it benefited him to do so. And he deliberately took actions that elicited responses that were obvious would be coming, and then he argued that he was a big victim because of those responses to his actions. I think that deserves a special kind of category that doesn’t quite fit in the binary frame of victim versus victimizer.

          > And he definitely got a lot of his support from that victimization alone, and he knew it and exploited it. (Of course the self-made stuff is utter nonsense, although I think Trump believes it.

          I see it a little differently. IMO, Trump watched, for many years, a cohort of people who were resentful because they felt they were being victimized, and then deliberately exploited the feelings of that cohort. He was a media creature, a regular feature and watch of Fox News. Somewhat uniquely so, but also part of an existing trend that was perhaps first made most obvious with politicians who exploited the Tea Party sentiments. It wasn’t that Trump just fortuitously connected to the feelings of his supporters, but that deliberately portrayed himself as a co-victim, in a rather absurd way, IMO (given his elite status). Of course, there could well have been something of a mixture in the two direction of the cauality/mechanics.

          > Evangelicals know Trump paid off strippers, or ignore it, or don’t care. They voted for him anyway.

          Kind of. But polling shows that many evangelicals went from thinking that the personal behaviors of politicians were critical for determining the merits of a political candidate pre-Trump, to thinking that the personal behaviors are basically irrelevant to determining the merits of a candidate post-Trump. So I think it’s kind of like how views among many conservative did a 180 on the importance of the debt pre- and post-Trump. (Or for that matter, the degree to which many liberals did a 180 on the magnitude of the threat posed by Russia).

          >…but one of the only things authentic about him is that he is genuinely hated by the coastal elites he grew up with.

          Yah, I don’t think so. He was very chummy with those “coastal elites” throughout much of his life. But he also watched Fox News and was quite aware of the antipathy that was out there and found ways to exploit that antipathy. Other politicians had followed a similar course (Michelle Bachman comes to mind, or Sarah Palin…I think there’s a long tradition of politicians exploiting the “common man” pathway to eliciting political support).

          Consider the nonsense about Obama’s birth certificate. Did Trump really believe that he had hired private detectives who had proof that Obama wasn’t a citizen? Or was he lying through his teeth because he knew he could exploit claims of evidence to weaponize hatred of Obama for personal/political expediency? Did he really hate Obama? I”d say likely. Was it his hatred of Obama that drove him to lie about investigating Obama’s citizenship? Hmmm. I dunno.

          > That doesn’t make him a man of the people or a working class hero, except in the sense that the enemy of my enemy is my candidate.

          For sure he knew that he could gain support by openly and constantly expressing antipathy towards libz. I don’t know how to evaluate the authenticity of his hatred. Could be authentic, I suppose, but I think there’s a ton of evidence (like Birtherism, his shifting positions on issues like abortion, his phony pretense of religiosity) that calls that into question.

        • Joshua says:

          Jonathan –

          This is kind of perfect. The whole piece is relevant but in particular go to around 9:15-10:00.

          Of all people, Tucker breaks down how all they way back in the day, Pat Buchanan uses the “I’m a victim at the hands of the elites/insiders” gambit – as a form of not admitting his power. This is what I was going for re Trump being a victim. And you have to give Tucker some credit for actually improving on Pat’s technique.

          https://youtu.be/XMGxxRRtmHc

          • Andrew says:

            Joshua:

            I guess one way for us to understand this and flip it around. Instead of bemoaning that various ultra-connected people from Andrew Cuomo to Steven Levitt proclaim their outsider status, we could consider that our social world is so high-dimensional that just about everybody can consider him or herself to be an “outsider” in some dimension. Pat Buchanan’s been a media insider for decades but he’s also an outsider in Washington for decades because he’s a fascist, and, until recently, just about nobody in official Washington was a fascist. Andrew Cuomo’s an outsider in New York politics because he’s a moderate Democrat, and almost all the party leaders in the state are liberals, especially with the demise in recent years of various of the old guard. Steven Levitt’s an outsider in academic economics because, before he blazed the Freakonomics trail, it was generally considered second-rate for economists to work on fun little problems instead of the big questions. I often feel like an outsider myself because I do applied statistics and it sometimes seems that theoretical work gets more respect within the statistics profession. I know this feeling is ridiculous—I’m as much of an insider in statistics as Levitt is in economics or Cuomo is in politics—but it’s hard sometimes to avoid having that outsider feeling. At the same time, I’m sure the theoretical statisticians feel like outsiders because, in modern statistics academia, applied work is so celebrated. Basically, everybody feels like a outsider except for the occasional really really smug person, and I guess we don’t get so many of these anymore. Even Lawrence Summers probably feels like an outsider sometimes!

            • rm bloom says:

              How can there *not* be ruling elites? In any enterprise, state, city, chicken-farm or copper-mine or whatever you please. Call them for the moment, the “organizing” elites. It’s less irritating to our sense of pride and autonomy. But without those elites, are we all — workers and farmers and teachers and whatever else we may be– supposed to just mill around and miraculously — through the magic of good-faith — figure out how to organize the processes and logistics and the management; of the state, city, chicken-farm, pig-farm etc; and on top of that manage to do it so there’s enough of a surplus at the end of the month so they can take it to market and get credits for the bread and shoelaces and everything else they otherwise would have to make all by themselves? Yes — it can be done that way and it was. For centuries. And in those centuries if you left in your will a few spoons or a mirror or a package of pepper (like Bede did) to your heirs, you were considered (in England anyway) a lucky man!

              • Andrew says:

                Rm:

                I don’t think anyone denies that there are elites. Cuomo, Hawley, etc., might deny that they are part of the ruling elite, but in that case they’re just wrong, which is the point that Goldman is making in his op-ed. A separate question is, who’s an outsider. Cuomo is part of a ruling elite—indeed, a bit of a hereditary elite—but he’s also an outsider in NY politics, as a moderate Democrat. Hawley is part of a ruling elite, and has been in elite training for a long time, but he’s also somewhat of an outsider in national politics, as being a fascist sympathizer. There often seems to be an assumption that being in the elite and being an outsider are mutually exclusive qualities, but they’re not. Indeed one might argue that at this point that just about everyone’s an outsider in some sense. Well, maybe not Steven Spielberg or Bill Gates. But just about everybody else in this world.

            • Joshua says:

              Andrew –

              > just about everybody can consider him or herself to be an “outsider” in some dimension.

              Yes, I think you’ve hit on some key points here.

              And framing it at the personal perspective as you did I think is also useful.

              I’ll go even a bit further, and into a tangent.

              I have often found myself spinning a narrative (to myself) that when my partner does something that makes me angry, she’s the one responsible for my anger. The narrative is that she did something that was insensitive or not considerate of my feelings, or because she lacks insight in some way into her own motivations. Actually, the list of ways that I can spin it so that she’s responsible for the feelings I have is almost endless.

              But in my better moments, I realize that being angry at her for the emotions I feel is often a rather absurd and counterproductive mental exercise. She doesn’t have some kind of responsibility to live her life in a way that is contingent on my feelings. If she’s not thinking about my reaction to something that she’s done, it’s usually because she’s understandably involved in her own thinking networks. And I actually have the option, instead of getting pissed and feeling somehow victimized by what she’s done, to just go over and give her a hug and ask her what’s going on and what she’s thinking. If she’s doing something that feels insensitive to me, it’s usually because she’s engaging with some kind of internal concern or worry.

              Of course that kind of approach can be overdone. Yes, I’m mostly responsible for my feelings but it’s also true that at some level many of the feelings I’m talking about ARE in reaction to something that she’s done. It is a basically good rule in life to try to be aware of how our actions affect others. I think there’s a parallel here, in a broader social frame, to the notion of “blaming the victim.” There really are victims and victimizers in the world. But on the other hand, lots of people tend towards self-victimizing as being the victim can be politically and psychologically expedient, especially when we mix in tribal and group antipathies. So then we get phenomena like people who are in a position of relative privilege getting the vapors about a “war on Christmas” because someone says “Happy Holidays.” I think as a society we are really enmeshed in a struggle with how to figure out where to draw the lines between who’s a victim and who’s a victimizer – as seen in the debates about reparations and “cancel culture” and “censorship” on social media and affirmative action, and yes, even the “war on Christmas.”

              So to get back to the context at hand: Yes, I think there can often be an arbitrariness (in the sense of being determined by individual expedience, not in the sense of randomness) to how we decide who’s the “elite” and who’s the “insider” – and some of that drive towards making these definitions in particular ways lies in a kind of emotional or psychological or tribal expediency. Yes, part of the problem is the multi-dimensionality of our lives. Thus, we should try to be a specific as possible in defining our terms in ways that are clear, less subjective, and that are really about intrinsic attributes.

              Where’s Donald? I want to give him a hug.

              • Jonathan (another one) says:

                That last line is as difficult for me to wrap my head around as it would be for you to wrap your arms around.

          • Jonathan (another one) says:

            I think Andrew summarizes well my problem with this view. Tucker Carlson espouses (honestly or dishonestly… I have no idea) views that are well outside of the non-Fox consensus. When he does so, he often uses the noncongruence between his view and that consensus as a point for it and Goldman’s point rightly criticizes that. But claiming victimization from people who are in fact attacking you isn’t (IMO) what Goldman is really talking about. If you’re going to adopt Carlson’s or Hawley’s or Trump’s view on something, you’re going to get attacked for violating a shared coastal elite understanding by those elites. (Although Warren and Hawley seem to hate Facebook equally, though for different reasons… one for not censoring enough, the other for censoring too much.) People with elite upbringings are not required to fall into line with the view of those elites. But as Goldman points out, they ought to make their arguments against those elites from which they spring on the merits and not adopt Trump’s “I’ve been there and I know how to beat them” outsiderhood. Disagreeing with people through sneering at them and their side is a lazy argument.

            • Joshua says:

              Jonathan –

              > If you’re going to adopt Carlson’s or Hawley’s or Trump’s view on something, you’re going to get attacked for violating a shared coastal elite understanding by those elites.

              Well, that’s one dimension where we can frame it. Another is that Tucker is a person of enormous privilege and who was born into an elite status, and who has tremendous political power, and who in saying that immigrants are making us poor and dirtier and more divided is cynically maximizing his privilege and power by attacking some of the least privileged people on the planet, who have virtually zero political agency.

              And he’s going to be attacked by a group of people that includes “costal elites” but which also includes many people that we could categorize in very different groupings: Like people who feel differently than he does about immigrations. Certainly, on a grand scale, his anti-immigrant rants could be defined as a position much more consistent with an “elite” status than a non-elite status.

              > Disagreeing with people through sneering at them and their side is a lazy argument.

              I certainly agree with that. But you have to understand why I find that an unsatisfactory way to characterize Tucker’s engagement with his opponents, if we’re going to describe that engagement as him being the victim of those behaviors rather than the victimizer?

  2. Joshua says:

    > America’s most powerful people have a problem. They can’t admit that they’re powerful

    So someone makes a simplistic generalization and then quote mines from Andrew Cuomo and cherry-picks examples to confirm that generalization.

    I’m not impressed.

    First, what does “America’s most powerful” people even mean? How is that category being defined?

    Second, does this represent some unique underlying characteristic of these “most powerful people” whereby they are less insightful about themselves than “less powerful people?”

    As matter of definition, you’re going to have more “most powerful” people who “don’t admit” their power than less powerful people who “don’t admit” there power of a smaller % ID less powerful people have power to recognize. And how is “admitting their power” being defined and measured?

    My guess is that whatever underlying behavioral or characterological attribute that this simplistic taxonomy is supposed to be getting at isn’t disproportionately distributed to a significant degree in association with the amount of “power” people have. I’d be open to actual data that might make the point, but my guess is that it’s one of those “there’s more intra-group diversity in this domain than cross-group diversity” kind of situations.

    I’d guess that a lot of less powerful people lack insight into themselves.

    I’d guess that a lot of “powerful people” don’t find it particularly hard to “admit” they have power – either to themselves or to others (because they think doing so would lack some kind of strategic or political expediency, I guess the theory goes?). Lots o’ people like to flex. Some don’t.

    • Joshua says:

      Yikes –

      I’ll try that again.

      > As matter of definition, you’re going to have more “most powerful” people who “don’t admit” their power than less powerful people who “don’t admit” their power – because a smaller percentage of less powerful people have power to recognize (or not recognize). And how is “admitting their power” being defined and measured?

    • Michael J says:

      I don’t interpret the statement of “powerful people can’t admit that they’re powerful” as saying that the problem is more prevalent than in non-powerful people or that even most have this problem. When I read it, I thought the comparison was to an optimal level i.e. it was saying that there are more powerful people who can’t admit that they’re powerful than would be ideal.

      • Joshua says:

        Michael –

        > I don’t interpret the statement of “powerful people can’t admit that they’re powerful” as saying that the problem is more prevalent than in non-powerful people or that even most have this problem.

        Yeah, I started wondering about that as I was writing my comment but got lazy and didn’t want to go back and re-write what I’d written. I was hoping I could get by without someone calling me on it :-)

        > I thought the comparison was to an optimal level i.e. it was saying that there are more powerful people who can’t admit that they’re powerful than would be ideal.

        But I do still think there’s a problem with the lack of definition. Am I wrong to think there’s a connotation that it’s widespread, and generally characteristic of “powerful people?” No doubt it exists to some extent – but how do we assess how much it’s a problem?

  3. jim says:

    I agree with Joshua, but for totally different reasons:

    Most “powerful” people aren’t nearly as “powerful” as “powerless” people imagine them to be.

    What makes Cuomo any more “powerful” than any other governor? A governor’s powers come with the office, not the person. Furthermore, surely there are *many* things that Cuomo wants to do but can’t. Guess why: He’s not all powerful. As to whether he’s in “the club” or not, that’s just standard human posturing. All people will pretend to not be “in the club” if they perceive that the audience they’re speaking to thinks being in the club is a bad thing to be in. I’m not sure what we gain by bashing politicians for doing what everyone else does every day.

    • Andrew says:

      Jim:

      I guess there are different levels of power. At the very bottom are people who are entirely at the mercy of others, such as kids or prisoners. At the next level are people with very little power because of economic or biological constraints, for example if you’re poor and don’t have a job or a place to live, or if you’re severely handicapped and can’t easily navigate life. Then there are people who live from paycheck to paycheck and are at the mercy of their boss. At the next level are people with some flexibility but have big burdens to carry, for example they are in debt or they have a serious illness or major caregiving responsibilities. Then there are people who are getting by, then there are people who are comfortable and can quit their job at any time and have very few constraints in their lives, then there are people with power not just over their own lives but over others’. And these things are multidimensional.

      Cuomo has a lot of power in the above senses. I guess that most state governors are in a similar situation. You can have lots of power without being all powerful.

      Being in the ruling class is another story, since it’s not just about power, it’s also about being part of a group of similar people.

      I haven’t thought deeply about these issues, and I’m sure there are sociologists who have, following up on C. Wright Mills, etc., but I do think this is important and I think Goldman makes a good point in his op-ed.

      Regarding your last point (“I’m not sure what we gain by bashing politicians for doing what everyone else does every day”): politicians are public figures. They’re our employees! Lots of people lie and cheat, but when politicians lie and cheat, we should call them on it. Similarly, if you hire a cashier and he steals from the till, it’s a concern, no?

      • jim says:

        “when politicians lie and cheat, we should call them on it. “

        Sure. If a politician is robbing the public I’m all for calling her on that. By all means. But if she’s offering a questionable characterization of her social standing I *really* don’t care.

        I disagree with the implicit position that every lie or every bit of cheating is of equal relevance. For example, I opposed the impeachment of Clinton on the grounds that he lied to (whatever authority) under oath about cheating on his wife. I don’t care that he lied about *that*. I don’t care that he cheated on his wife. Not my business. My concern was for him to run the country well.

        There’s obviously a power structure with presidents or governors vs. kids or prisoners. But you’re not comparing equals. Kids don’t have power for the obvious reason that they don’t know enough to use power wisely. Prisoners don’t have power because they have sacrificed their power by egregiously violating social rules. There are also age-related, skill-based, knowledge-based, economic, and now popularity-based power structures.

        Cuomo well understands that he can’t just do anything he wants. He doesn’t see himself as powerful because he’s focused not on what he can do – which just gets done and he moves on – but what he can’t do, which he has to figure out how to get done, and which probably consumes the bulk of his effort.

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