23 thoughts on ““The Social Network” and The Rest of Us.

  1. Mike Kennedy says:

    I loved the West Wing for many seasons, until I figured out it was so utterly fictional. These guys and gals were smart; they tried to do the best for the country; they treated opponents with respect; they couldn’t be bought.

    Now that is some serious fiction, bordering on the comedic.

    I think Mr. Obama might be book smart (though not in Jed Bartlet’s league).

    But this guy has the political instincts while in office of a Jimmy Carter. I used to think it was just rookie mistakes, but two years into the deal, I’m now convinced it’s flat out incompetence.


    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Re: “These guys and gals were smart; they tried to do the best for the country; they treated opponents with respect; they couldn’t be bought.
      Now that is some serious fiction, bordering on the comedic.”

      I can see how you would feel that way, given that moronic, selfish, disrespectful, and corrupt people do exist in public life, and are always newsworthy.

      But for what it’s worth, I believe you’d be amazed and proud about how many people in public life are smart, decent, hard-working public minded, and ethical. They aren’t as quick or witty as the world’s best script writers made the West Wing characters, but they are every bit as admirable as those characters.

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        I don’t doubt you are right, Joe, but as a reporter for more than 10 years, I interviewed my share of politicians — several famous senators, a few congressmen, some state lawmakers, a governor and a former president.

        You are right — I was impressed by a few. But that was a long time ago. I just hope there is still some quality out there. I’ll take your word for it.

      2. Just a recollection here, Mike. a couple years ago I went around the Capitol (St.Paul) interviewing legislators for Politics in Minnesota. There were some comical crackpots. Foremost among them was Mark Olson (of Deep Sixth District) Big Lake, later brought up on domestic abuse charges for, “placing his wife on the ground”. The guy was of course a darling of the Taxpayers League. Among the sharpest were Ron Erhardt, of Edina, the transportation guru run out of his job by a GOP hit team, and Dennis Ozment of Rosemount, a guy with a remarkably grasp on alternative energy production … now denounced as a “quisling” by the state’s GOP chair.

      3. Joe Loveland says:

        Re: “I’ve interviewed my share of politicians…”

        Judging a politician’s decency only on the basis of how they appear in a media interview is problematic, a bit like judging an actor’s decency only on the basis of how they act on stage.

        I’ve worked around politicians who are loveable in a media interview, and of questionable character in person. I’ve also worked with politicians who appear phony and deceptive in interviews, but behind the scenes are actually smart, open, ethical people who just don’t handle the pressure of a media interview well, or are following formulaic advice from PR charlatans. Media trainers preaching “bridging” techniques haven’t always been helpful on this front.

  2. Joe Loveland says:

    Posts like this are what the whiz kids invented the “Likes” button for.

    I think about that distance between me and the elites in various fields all the time. My operating assumption is that I would be a miserable failure at 99.99% of the world’s occupations, and the most tricky part of life is finding one of the 0.01% of jobs that I can do pretty well. Thank goodness for elites to do the things I couldn’t possibly do.

  3. PM says:

    Doesn’t that make you an “elite” as well? Specialization makes us all elites (some just get paid more….).

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      I’m living proof that being a specialist doesn’t necessarily equate with being elite. Specialization allows me to make a living, but we specialists are perfectly capable of being poor-to-mediocre.

    2. My issue is with astonishing gulf in both brain power and control of information between the “elites” and the pitchfork rabble getting so much attention … and often providing an essential, if unwitting service to the conniving elites.

  4. Joe Loveland says:

    A curious thing about American culture: We worship elites in sports, science, entertainment and business fields, but we scorn them in politics. In politics, an elite mind needs to dumb down their public selves — drop their g’s, embrace slang, avoid discussing philosophical or policy complexity — lest they get accused by the Palins, Limbaughs or Rukavinas of the world of being, gasp, elite.

    1. PM says:

      Best ever exposition of this theme in American history: “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” by Richard Hofstadter.

    2. Exactly. Who has played the “anti-elite” card so well for so long? It ain’t the brainy liberals. How Joe Sixpack swallowed the idea of a guy raised by a single mom in Arkansas and another raised by grandparents in Hawaii as “elites” while a guy swaddled in affluence by three generations of wealth (George W.) as a “regular guy” still astonishes me. Brilliant marketing. It’s like selling Bentleys as an every day guy’s ride and a keys and heater Ranger on snob appeal.

  5. Mike Kennedy says:


    I think that arguement is all wet. I don’t think Obama’s problems have anything to do with his brains.

    It has everything to do with his policies. If the economy were recovering faster and people didn’t see long term threats to the economic well being of the country, he would be celebrated.

    Here is the rub: I don’t think Obama is any more of an elite mind than Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon (yes, Nixon had a first rate mind) — maybe even less than the above mentioned.

    Besides, how do you judge this? IQ? We all know people with high IQs who have littel or no common sense or “street smarts.” We know the reverse is true.

    Ronald Reagan didn’t have a giant IQ, but he framed a few issues in a clear and understandable way. He was also good at being………well, himself.

    What exactly is Mr. Obama elite in? What are his gifts? What does he do better than any president before him (besides being one of the best campaigners since Clinton)?

    I’m not sure Mr. Obama is any smarter than my dentist and so what if he is? How does that translate into leading the country in a difficult time, which, by all accounts, he is struggling to do.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Mike, I didn’t say Obama’s popularity problems are because he is too smart, and I don’t think that. In fact, I didn’t say a word about Obama.

      What I said is that smart politicians — Nixon, Clinton, Hillary, etc. — seem to feel they have to act less smart in public, because if they don’t, they get labeled an elitist.

      Unlike politicians, I don’t think elites in other fields, like Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Katherine Graham, and I.M. Pei, feel the pressure to do that.

    2. Do you have any grasp of the role obdurate obstruction has played in Obama’s “policies”, Mike. Or is it as I assume that if only he’d played a cannier political game — like maybe Lee Atwater, Karl Rove or Tom DeLay — he could have moved more votes his way. I think, at the very least, that he’s been operating with a handicap by your standards, in that shameless cynicism has not really been an option.

  6. Mike Kennedy says:

    Thanks for clarifying. I still don’t agree.

    Politics is a popularity contest, very subjective and not close to a science in either policies or outcomes.

    It is much more an opinion whether someone has done a good job in politics than if you invented software, ran a successful newspaper or passed for 70,000 yards.

    I don’t think America is anti intellectual in the least. I do think people like others to communicate with them informally.

    Are we much more of an informal country than others? Yes. Absolutely. Is that necessarily bad. Personally, I don’t think so, but that’s just me.

  7. john sherman says:

    Sean Wilnetz has a piece in the New Yorker on the intellectual origins of Glenn Beck in the Birch Society and worse; it’s really astonishing that there is such a persistent undercurrent of the bat shit in the nation and so little that can be done to counteract it.

    It’s odd that “elite” has become an epithet; for example the American Spectator is vigorously attacking the elite, by which they mean anyone who took the trouble to get a competent education and then put it to use; all the while these anti-elitists are busy shilling for the richest one percent of the population.

    Then there are people like Chris Matthews, who makes I believe $3 million a year, telling me what “real Americans” think and believe; likewise, Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh who live in gated communities, like to pretend they spend their off hours at Walmart comparing prices on vinyl NASCAR jackets.

    Elitism is a complicated concept. Advertisers use a kind of contagion effect, so because Tiger Woods knows a lot about golf, it follows that he knows what car I should buy. I’m a retired academic so I know lots of people who believe that because they know more than just about anybody else in the world about Milton’s early poetry, they must be equally expert on, for example, political economy. I’m for allowing elites to be elite on the subject where they may reasonably claim expertise, but otherwise they’re just like the rest of us. Climate scientists get to claim authority on climate science, medical researchers on the subject of their research, etc. I trust my doctor to tell me what’s wrong with my body and my mechanic to tell me what’s wrong with my truck, but not vice versa.

    The problem is that the gasbags I see on t.v. have no legitimate claim to expertise on anything, except what they tell each other. I had an epiphany during the election watching Chris Matthews, Pat Buchanan and Mike Barnicle discuss whether Obama knew how to “work a Philly lunch room.” My first question was why I should pay any attention to these guys, an infantile narcissist, a longstanding failure and a plagiarist and the second was why was this discussion any more valuable than say a Preparation H ad?

    Beyond a claim to authority based on credentials, an argument is only as good as the evidence produced to support it.

    1. Damn good one, John. I was talking with a buddy a while aho on the almost conscious rejection of every economist who “got it right” years ago predicting the meltdown. Other than Paul Krugman they are invisible on, as you say, “the gasbag shows”. Likewise with unequivocal failures, like Newt Gingrich and John McCain, who are the most-frequent guests of the Sunday talk shows. Meanwhile, the views of people like Glenn Greenwald, who has a significantly higher batting average in terms of both horse races and truthfulness in “messaging”for example, are never featured. Nothing succeeds like failure, i guess.

  8. Zuckerberg is portrayed as a kniving genius that betrayed his only friend. He seems a little more normal and well-adjusted in real life, but still seems very awkward. The movie was really intriguing, and is one of the best movies of the year so far.

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