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.