Within the past two decades, the American professional and business world has begun to develop into a caste system based on the college that one attended. It seems that across industries from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, having an Ivy League degree has become the litmus test for intelligence and competence.
There are hundreds of thousands of low income to middle class people, both white and non-white, who are forever shut out of opportunities to utilize their abilities, achieve financial success, and impact the world solely because they did not attend an Ivy League or Ivy-like school.
Sadly, mainstream liberalism not only has ignored the Ivy League caste system, but in many cases some of the worst perpetuators of discrimination based on schooling and class have been “liberal” institutions such as Google. This is a far cry from the 1960s where liberalism stood for fighting the establishment, dismantling hierarchy, and encouraging independent institutions to flourish.
Some of the most eloquent critics of the Ivy League caste system have been right wing Populists such as Pat Buchanan and Ron Unz. It is a shame that the major voices criticizing classist hypocrisy within liberalism and liberal policies with classist undertones and the Ivy League caste system are on the populist right. This hurts us, anti-classist progressives since criticism of the Ivy League caste system will get associated with far-right populists.
HOWEVER, THERE IS NOTHING AT ALL PROGRESSIVE ABOUT THE IVY LEAGUE CASTE SYSTEM.
Criticism of the Ivy League caste system is not “anti-intellectualism” or “anti-education.” Rather it is a criticism of a system that assigns an individual a permanent caste-like place in society based solely on where they are admitted to school at age 17. As most people know, admission to the Ivy League system is all about class. Exhibit 1: GEORGE W BUSH!
Since right wing populists today do make some valid points about the classism inherent in mainstream liberalism and the Ivy League caste system, we face a quandary similar to two other situations in progressive history:
1. There were human rights violations in certain socialist countries such as Cuba and the USSR. Some progressives opposed such violations. However, how does one draw the line between criticizing human rights violations within a leftist country and strengthening US right wing imperialist opposition to this left wing country?
2. There was a debate within the left on Ron Paul’s anti-war activism: Should he be opposed like any other right winger, ignored, praised but not supported, supported but not endorsed, endorsed, etc.?
Similarly, to what extent should we support rightwing populists who oppose the Ivy League caste system? How can we acknowledge that their critique of “liberal classism” and the “Ivy League caste system” is correct and even join with them specifically on this issue, without giving credence to their sexism, racism, homophobia, and anti-immigrant bigotry?
One of the things, I admire most about our current president is Obama’s tendency to admit when the other side may have some valid points on a specific issue.
By ignoring liberal classism, we miss opportunities to bring white working class people into the progressive fold. Let us take an example.
In the 2008 election, Sarah Palin was mocked by some elite liberal’s for not attending the right schools and her lower-middle-class persona. Yes, Sarah Palin deserved to be attacked, but only for her rightwing religious views and ultra-right economics, not her educational and class background. While we did win that election, we missed a golden opportunity. If we as progressives had openly stated that we did not approve of Sarah Palin, but that attacking her class and education background was bigotry plain and simple, we would have done the following:
1. Weakened classism within America;
2. Developed a culture of opposition to the Ivy League caste system;
3. Denied a piece of ammunition to the far right;
4. Weakened her unofficial movement which is still strong;
5. Demonstrated to white working class people that progressives once again consistently oppose bigotry in any form and truly believe in equal opportunity.
Rather then ignoring each and every claim of “liberal hypocrisy” and “Ivy League elitism” and attributing it to just “dumb redneck populism” or racism, we should acknowledge that every camp in our political system can make a valid point from time to time.
By taking on the mantle of opposing the Ivy League caste system, we will be accomplishing the following:
A. Demonstrating that as progressives, we don’t oppose a criticism of the system just because it comes from the other side;
B. Overcoming elitism and economic inequality within our system;
C. Demonstrating that we progressives truly stand for socioeconomic equality and oppose bigotry and unfair discrimination of any kind. This will allow us to gain credence among excluded low-income whites who otherwise would have gone down the path of right wing producerism.
As progressives, we should fight for a society where people are judged solely on their abilities and character, as opposed to arbitrary factors such as the color of their skin or the name on their sheepskin.