The Young and The Feckless: The Beltway Brat Pack

I read the New York Time's recent piece on Obama's young staffers with avid interest. I confess that the human dimension of political clout (and how it's gained and wielded) fascinates me endlessly. The article is nothing hard-hitting, but provides a fascinating society-columnesque glimpse at the go-getter twentysomethings who roam the corridors of power and what it takes to keep afloat in that world.

The job — serving as the right hands of various White House top dogs — is their life, and everything else is squeezed in around that. Working for the administration means long hours, syncing up with your boss's schedule, forgoing social niceties like showing up for dates on time and sometimes putting friends and family on the back burner.

While the background of each eager young thing mentioned isn't explicitly detailed, at least two are identified as having attended Harvard and all, it is noted, gave up other plans (grad school, jobs, internships) to sign on to the Obama campaign in the early days of the run-up to the 2008 election. While I'm not nearly naive enough to expect that Obama is going to cull his junior ranks from the graduating class of South Boise Technical College (a fine institution if it actually existed in reality), you can't read the NYT piece without acknowledging that these are the sons and daughters of privilege who are now on the fast-track to powerful futures of their own (the casual ways in which they discuss and relate to their powerful bosses is particularly telling). It's a dynamic of advantage breeding influence that keeps replicating and perpetuating itself in an insular lineage that leaves little room for challengers or outsiders to find a place.

Does anyone still believe in the age-old myth of the accessible American political system, in which one individual can make a difference, take a stand, have a vision and the passion and drive to rally others to his or her mandate and rise to the height of power and esteem? Probably not since the era of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I suppose. But still, there was a small part of me that wanted to believe that being young and idealistic and possessed of the work ethic of a Clydesdale would be qualification enough for those interested in devoting arguably the most carefree and hedonistic years of their life to political service, but it's the same old song as is sung in corporate America. Sure you need all of these assets (no one claims these kids don't earn their keep), but on top of that, it's also contingent on having connections, the economic resources to take a hiatus from the workforce to be a political volunteer, the appropriate educational pedigree. The plutocracy starts early, y'all.

In the end, these junior movers and shakers who now find their personal lives are Beltway gossip blog fodder are no more like the rest of us than are the scions of young Hollywood (insert your own Jon Favreau joke here). Looks, the ability to cry on command, an ivy league education, strategically climbing the ranks of the young Dem or Repub hierarchy; all barriers to entry to worlds that are largely off-limits to the rest of us, worlds that both still sell the myth of the nobody who rises to prominence via grit, determination and sheer talent.

by J. Maureen Henderson
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5 Comments Have Been Posted

advantage breeding advantage

I like the phrase "advantage breeding influence." I read the article, and I didn't really get any sense of what these kids wanted to be doing in the future -- whether they themselves want to be influential. Most of them seemed more than content minding the schedules of their bosses. Maybe that's a good thing?

I do think one famous Jon Favreau is probably more than enough, and I think I might prefer the one who directs the Iron Man movies.

plutocracy starts early

I read this too and kind of wondered where it was going (though I did finish it and thought it was a nice social commentary piece, if not particularly insightful aside from the 'look how busy/wired these kids are' angle). Maybe I'm too cynical because I don't believe in the one person makes a difference model, but I also mean that more in regards to quote-unquote proper politics than grassroots organizing—a phrase that gets thrown around by this administration despite, in my view, working largely with and in established channels. But I also disbelieve the myth because I agree: a great work ethic only goes so far. Privilege ftw, at least when it comes to getting ahead in the ways this article highlights.

(The original Jon Favreau was my main man circa Swingers. When I first read those headlines about the younger version of the same name groping the cardboard Hillary, I thought the actor/director with great arms had gone mad. Just sayin'.)

Have I mentioned that this is the most engaging Bitch blog for me right now because I feel like I have something to add instead of just reading and nodding or learning about stuff I'm way too naive about? Quite frankly, I don't find enough (any other?) folks bringing the analysis to Millennial-type issues the way it's happening here (maybe because I spend too much time reading analysis from folks who aren't in our generation—not disrespect but they don't live it). Brings so much joy to me to read this, every time.

Re: plutocracy starts early

Thanks for the kind words, Brittany! The lack of critical discussion by Millennials for Millennials frustrates me. No doubt, these conversations are happening somewhere out there, but perhaps not framed in generational terms and perhaps not publicly accessible.

I do read a lot of online writing by twentysomethings, but it's mostly from those who are a part of the "system" (corporatist, white, middle-class, college-educated, heteronormative) or aspire to be and is aimed directly at encouraging their own peers along this path. Fine if this is your thing, but maddening if A) it isn't or B) you don't fit the profile of those to whom this "blind leading the blind" (which it is, we're talking Alex P. Keaton types here) guidance applies.

Handbook to fakin' it

If a casual way of discussing and relating to one's boss is telling of privilege, couldn't one simply fake their way to actual privilege? We all just need to start sassing back to "the man" more. This is my well-thought out, thoroughly researched conclusion and solution to class barriers. Not at all influenced by one too many champagne cocktails. Ahem.

Re: Handbook to fakin' it

Cocktails aside (heh), I did find the degree of familiarity these young guns expressed for their bosses to be one of the most subtly telling aspects of the article. It wasn't born of disrespect, but a lack of intimidation in the face of power and authority that I think only comes from having grown up around/with it. It isn't the Other, it's reflective of you and your own background.

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