Washington’s ‘governing elite’ think Americans are morons

Washington’s ‘governing elite’ think Americans are morons, by Jeff Guo. The bureaucracy is a core part of the new elite, along with the academia and the media. Politicians come and go, and mainly just do as they’re told by the media and bureaucrats.

[C]ivil servants exercise real power over how the government operates. They write and enforce rules and regulations. They might not decide what becomes law, but they have a hand in how laws are drawn up and how laws are implemented.

For all their influence, though, nearly all of these technocrats are unelected, and they spend most of their time with people who are just like them — other highly educated folk who jog conspicuously in college tees and own a collection of NPR totes.

In their new book, which is part ethnography and part polemic, Bachner and Ginsberg argue that Washington’s bureaucrats have grown too dismissive of the people they are supposed to serve. Bachner and Ginsberg recently sent around an informal survey to selected members of this technocratic class, and the results, they say, were shocking.

“Many civil servants expressed utter contempt for the citizens they served,” they write in their book, “What Washington Gets Wrong.” “Further, we found a wide gulf between the life experiences of ordinary Americans and the denizens of official Washington. We were left deeply worried about the health and future of popular government in the United States.” …

Some elitism is inevitable, but this is going too far.

On a wide range of issues, bureaucrats believe that Americans are ignorant. For instance, over half of them say that the public knows little to nothing about government crime programs, child care programs or environmental programs.

Predictably, the bureaucrats also think that the government should not take what the public says too seriously. Mostly, they believe that officials like them should use their best judgment instead of following public opinion.

A lot of this elitism is probably justifiable. When only 36 percent of adults can name the three branches of government, you wouldn’t want to hand over control of FDA to, say, your next-door neighbor. In the sample of bureaucrats that Bachner and Ginsberg looked at, the majority had master’s degrees or more. It should be a comfort knowing that there exists a specialized class of people who have dedicated their lives to understanding the intricacies of, say, tax credits for the poor or the diplomatic intrigues of the Caucasus.

Bachner and Ginsberg don’t dispute that many voters are ignorant. In their view, however, D.C. insiders are needlessly disdainful of the regular Americans they are supposed to be helping and that this breeds distrust on both sides. Perhaps that’s one reason, they say, that American faith in government is at a 50-year low. …

Bachner and Ginsberg call this phenomenon the fallacy of “false uniqueness.” They interpret it as a sign that many public servants have internalized a sense of superiority. Perhaps, as they write, “officials and policy community members simply cannot imagine that average citizens would have the information or intellectual capacity needed to see the world as it is seen from the exalted heights of official Washington.”

The same is true, to a lesser extent, in Australia.