Obama and the Establishment

R. R. Reno from the pages of First Things (February 2009):

The election is over and the inauguration is upon us. There has been and will be a great deal of talk about the historic signifigance of Barak Obama – our first black president. The symbolism is powerful. America may be flawed, it may be arrogant in its power and sated with its wealth, but it is in an extraordinary, unprecendented place.

So yes, a dramatic moment in American history. But the larger significance of the incoming administration is not racial at all. Obama’s electoral success shows, in fact, that race is an old and now passing fixation in American politics. Instead, what is striking about Obama is something deeper. Not since John F. Kennedy have we elected a man so closely identified with Northern, urban, educated elites.

His inner circle shares a similar profile. Their resumes shine with degrees from the old establishment colleges and universities: the Ivy League, University of Chicago, and so forth. There are no DePaul or Purdue grads to be found, no ward politicians, no in-laws with dubious credentials, clamoring for civil-service jobs, no thick-necked labor leaders.

With all its credentials and stellar achievements, the Obama administration recalls Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trust and the Whiz Kids who revitalized the Ford Motor Company after the Second World War. Obama and his pals are the new experts whom Kennedy promised would bring new ideas to government. Their progressive views, trim physiques, and well-disciplined lives remove all doubt: We’re witnessing the restoration of the Establishment.


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