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  • Lance Mannion
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If you look at the core supporters of the Democratic Party in it's actual organizations (people who contribute large amounts of money and who comprise most of the local party organizations), it's almost entirely attorneys and university professors, with the attorneys being the ones who fund everything (the professors don't have enough money). The people who used to comprise the local party organizations (union people, members of political machines) were intentionally squeezed out in the 1970s. There are some former attorneys who have now become community activists, but usually they obey their old attorney status-ranking (the better the law school and larger your firm is, the better an attorney you are).

The funny thing about professors and attorneys is that they are very status-conscious professions. Of course, there are other status-conscious professions, but those are generally Republicans (venture capitalists, high-level corporate executives, etc.). It makes sense that Republicans like those professions, since most Republicans' fondest dream is to become a venture capitalist or executive themselves. Democrats aren't equally enamoured with attorneys, so it's a bad mismatch. And Republicans tend to more tolerance for varying professions.

Both for attorneys and professors, it's generally about what you did at an early age. Once you get tenure or make partner at ages 30-40 or so, you're generally set. Your workload goes down substantially and you're now in a cliqueish collective leadership (the tenured faculty run the university, the partners run the law firm) which doesn't like to turn out insiders. There will always be subtantial clientele for most universities or most large law firms, so you get to kick back and totally wonk out (professors) or play with politics (attorneys).

Almost all of the Democratic leadership are attorneys (if not, they're professors). Some of the female Democrats came up through the school board route, but that's a minority. Dubya and Hillary Clinton and Lieberman (ok, he's not really a Democrat) went to Yale Law (Kerry went to Yale undergrad). Durbin and Leahy went to Georgetown. Levin and Schumer and Feingold and Obama and Spitzer and Kaine and Warner went to Harvard Law. Gray Davis was a bit of a weirdo for going to Columbia Law. Get the picture?


Sadly, as I've heard from various friends-on-the-inside, this is one of the biggest contrasts between the Dem and GOP machines, and one of the Dems biggest problems. The GOP has an enormous infrastructure recruiting people from community colleges, churches, parochial schools, and local organizations, bringing them to Washington, shuttling them around, introducing them to people, etc. The Dem establishment works more like a media company---you apply for an internship somewhere, slave away, and if you're very lucky, get to shake some hands. It's a huge problem for the Dems, and has, I think, everything to do with their lack of grassroots enthusiasm.


Lance, you nailed it with this post.


I like this post, but the last line misses it, I think. Having 44 of them may not be working out too well, but having 55 would be just fine.


Thanks, Lance. I think they take a lot of things for granted, and pander accordingly.

Exiled in NJ

Great post, Lance!

In response to your first post, someone mentioned Hackett being a narcissist, but I think all politicians rate highly on this trait, and I think all fear having it known that the emperor has no clothes.

If you can find Adirondack Life for April 2006, there is a fascinating short piece on the progression of occupations as 'rulers' of our small towns.


"What I hoped I was implying, and what I should have taken the trouble to say, is that having all those Democratic Senators all seeming to come from the same mold has contributed to an image problem for the Party---we're the party of pointy-headed policy wonks, snooty intellectual types, timid careerists and elitists---and that image problem is part of what the Democrats have to overcome to get those 11 extra Senators."

Lance, as Hackett might say, rock on!

blue girl

Jeez, you're always so lazy with your posts -- You never write *enough* to fully explain yourself. (Is there enough of a blogosphere for that??!! -- Just kidding, Mannion.)

"What I hoped I was implying..." -- I knew that' s what you meant.

Kevin Wolf

I could not agree more, Lance. And I think DKNY's comment has a lot of truth to it.

harry near indy

to paraphrase marv albert:

"mannion takes a shot ... AND IT COUNTS!"

you're right about the varied establishments within certain professions and career paths. i can think of the mfa in creative writing path, and it seems to be a lot like that.

the real change, the true change, and the best change comes from the outlyers -- those who oppose these various organizations/establishments/apparats, or those who are indifferent to and ignore them because they are irrelevant to their aims.

and as for eccentrics ... fdr was an old-line aristocrat and might not have seemed strange to his peers, but i can imagine how offbeat he would seem to, say, a cowboy in wyoming, with the pince-nez glasses, the accent, the naval cape.

so you could say that fdr, too, was off the beaten path.


You know, I got what you were saying with those last two or three sentences just fine -- they make perfect sense if one's read the argument preceding them. You don't need an editor (at least, not for this one).

Bill Altreuter

I'm not so sure that it is entirely accurate to call Democrats "the party of pointy-headed policy wonks, snooty intellectual types, timid careerists and elitists". To be sure, the Democrats Big Tent certainly holds some of these, but if you think about it, there's no shortage of same working in the White House right now: Wolfowitz, Perle, Stephen Hadley; the list could go on. Now let's think about senators: on the Republican side you have Orin Hatch, on the Democrat's side, Joe Biden. Lamar Alexander or Pat Leahey? (I shouldn't pick on Pat-- he's one of the handful I like. Saint Michael's College, Georgetown Law.) Al Gore fits the profile, I suppose-- but Al's fatal flaw was that he really was groomed for the job. Like the first George Bush Gore reckoned he should be President because it was his turn.

(It may be a little off the topic, but it may be that one reason that academics and lawyers are status conscious is that they tend to make less dough than venture capitalists, high-level corporate executives. I know a lot of lawyers who tell their children, "Be the client, not the lawyer.")

I suppose there are examples on either side-- I like Mario Cuomo because I am a pointy-headed policy wonk, a snooty intellectual, and an elitist, and therefore enjoyed having a Philosopher King-- but there are plenty of populist Democrats out there, even in New York. Harvard educated Chuck Schumer is one, I think.


Well, actually, no, 55 of these characters wouldn't be "just fine". The reason we only have 44 of these schmucks is because the Party leadership is inherently wrongly composed, and the American people recognize that.

First, there's no real reason to assume that simply because you got into Harvard Law and then became a partner at a large corporate law firm that you're part of the best and brightest. There's certainly very little to indicate that Harvard Law students' characters, morality, leadership skills or even speaking ability are especially notable. It's mostly just a function of knowing that high grades in easy subjects at a good college get you into Harvard Law (i.e., you take all the English and Politics classes you can find).

Second, the ways that somebody thinks when they go through that process are inherently created for eras when the heart of politics is centrist policy-wonking and deal-cutting. Unfortunately, America used to be in such an era, but is no longer. Such people are now liabilities and not assets.

Third, because only the rarest of such people can do the two things needed at the moment: be charismatic politicians AND use that charisma to build political machines which ensure that the other party is permanently disenfranchised in as many areas as possible. In fact, Bill Clinton was unable to do the second. Willie Brown and Mayor Daley were able to do the second, but not the first.

Exiled in NJ

Now this may be a bit extreme, but does anyone think the GOP will call Sherrod Brown 'Sherrod' or "Rod," which sounds manly and 'tough.' Not on your tintype: It will be "Sherry" Brown. This may not be fair to Mr. Brown and any other male named Sherry, but they will do it to get out the red meat male vote.


"I'm not so sure that it is entirely accurate to call Democrats "the party of pointy-headed policy wonks, snooty intellectual types, timid careerists and elitists"."

Except that it is accurate enough - certainly there are exceptions, but it's generally an accurate depiction. The problem with your list of current White-House wonks is that these are staffers and not actual politicians. The Republicans don't expect Perle or Wolfowitz to go out and win elective office.

Also, even the elected Republican wonks are also not really at the heart of their leadership (Lamar Alexander is regarded as essentially a joke and a RINO). Of course, large numbers of the current Republican leadership do come from high-status backgrounds and tony educations. But it's also true that:
1. their leadership is still much more diverse than the Democratic parties'
2. their leadership has many more people from comparatively low-status backgrounds and educations (Delay was an exterminator, Boehner barely graduated from college at age 28 and was a plastics salesman, Ed Gillespie was a parking lot attendant, Blunt's first real job was as county clerk in the Ozarks).

There are comparatively fewer Democrats in the leadership who do actually come from low-status backgrounds. The few who have (Bill Clinton, Obama and Durbin) all did it the exact same way - they went to top law schools and very quickly became noticed as the best and brightest. Obama and Clinton actually were both attorneys AND law school professors.


"Dubya and Hillary Clinton and Lieberman "

translate "Dubya" into "Bill Clinton".

Shakespeare's Sister

I don't want to lose any Sherrod Browns. I want to recruit more Paul Hacketts.

The question is whether the former can be arsed to make room for the latter.

The Heretik

Marv Albert? Yes, and it counts! A double positive, if there is such a thing.

And then there are multiple negatives.

Somehow this career as a privileged screw-up has won him a reputation as an authentic and self-made man.

Nicely said.

harry near indy


i just printed a soundbite i heard marv say -- more like yell -- when michael jordan hit a big shot in an important game.

it sticks in my mind.

i just felt i had to use it.

if you liked it, hey -- i'm glad you did.


Actually, Sherrod Brown comes across very real and caring (Clintonesque?) when he's talking to voters. Which he is. Very real and caring, I mean. Hackett didn't have a good grasp of the issues, other than the war, but voters in Ohio, surprisingly, care more about their jobs and stuff like that.

Somehow, Hackett got painted as the real progressive when the other guy was a very good progressive too. I'm not sure most people who inhabit the blogosphere really know what a progressive looks like.

Gotham Image

Interesting posts - Though I'd suggest that all Presidents, at one time or another, make it happen themselves. Incidentally, Truman was also a soldier on teh front, during ww1. Can you imagine the moden mangerial types doing that. Can you imagine Cheney serving in a humble capacity, with lots of danger and no clear political or monetary upside? That's the point. The rise of the mangerial class, of power insiders, has slightly skewed the importance of character and authticity in obtaining power. With modern media, completely phony politicians have the bios taken seriously in a way that would not have been possible during an earlier era, with a press corp that was more grounded and distant from those in power.

Night Bird


Surely well said and this post is indicative of why you were nominated for Best Writing. Congrats Sir, I am sure your "mom" is proud.


"55" worked better than what we have now. Sure. But having that number did not stop, or even slow, in any dramatic sense, global warming. Having "55" did not slow the hemorrhaging of American manufacturing jobs out of the states. IOW...the full scale assault on the middle class in the name of 'globalization'. Having "55" did not stop the consolidation of power within the national security state. Nothing has stopped the expansion of the intelligence community. And not that said expansion made us one bit wiser or one bit safer. Having "55" did not stop, and perhaps did not even slow, the spread of the military -industrial complex. Having "55" did not stop illegal immigration into the country, which, essentially, serves to lower wages paid in America. I mean the list could go on and on and on. So sure...."55" is better than criminal clap-trap that runs the show now. That is not exactly a reason to celebrate the good ole days. The real question is; can a Sherrod Brown type stand up against the faux tough guys in BushCo. I doubt it, personally, but I sure am willing to work with him, and other Dems to try. But, all and all, I don't like what I see in the present Dem leadership. They don't have the fire in the belly necessary for the fight if you ask me. The way they treated Murtha, one of their own, taught me a lot about who they are and what they are capable of. But for now....what other alternative do we have?

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