Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy

“Where does volunteering stop and exploitation begin?”

—Martin Bright, The Spectator

Giving of one’s time and money is admirable, and the righteousness of organizations asking for volunteers or donations is not being questioned. But a problem, conceivably, is a government restricting funding where it has a moral obligation to fully subsidize, while appealing to citizen generosity. Citizens are encouraged to contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project , a nonprofit that employs poignant TV ads soliciting money to support, “honor and empower” wounded veterans and their families. A similar organization, Operation Homefront , supports military families in many ways including food assistance and “relief during a crisis”.

Veterans and their families should never have to worry about survival issues. But to the extent that citizens can be induced to take on what is a governmental responsibility by committing money and volunteering for fundraisers, the government (criticized for its level of disregard of veterans) can redirect resources.

Why should a citizen who campaigned against wars based on lies, and who understands General Wesley Clark’s revelation of U.S. plans to invade seven countries in five years, feel motivated to volunteer anything, particularly when the country is becoming ever more a vast military machine? In the long-range interest of there being fewer injured vets, might it make more sense to support anti-war groups such as Veterans for Peace or Code Pink?

Can appealing for volunteers or donations actually manipulate the unwary? Consider that the Cato Institute, a force for the privatization of everything, published in 1981 a strategy to privatize public parks by means of “… reform through volunteerism and privatization of services to the outright abolition of public ownership…” That concept can be applied throughout society.

AARP (no longer the American Association of Retired Persons, although it uses the initials) has been called by former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson “the biggest marketing operation in America and money-maker” and “the greatest abuse of American generosity I witnessed in my time in the U.S. Senate.” If you go to the AARP Foundation’s web page and click on “DONATE” and “VOLUNTEER”, reasons given for their need for cash and time are “to help struggling seniors to meet their basic needs ….. as they face issues with hunger, housing, income, and isolation.” Simultaneously, forces within Congress working to reduce Social Security benefits, or simply to privatize the system, continue to grow.

I have unanswered questions. I’m taxed to kingdom come while urged to volunteer and to pony up for services that are the province of government ….. while gouged for insurance industry-driven health care that is an insult to decency; even as Congress seeks to demolish Social Security (while Government lies about inflation rates); even as every aspect of life is suffocated so that ever more can be crammed into the maw of the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence security state already consuming more than half of America’s “discretionary” spending.


“The election of Obama was one more triumph of illusion over substance … We mistook style and ethnicity … for progressive politics and genuine change.”

Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class

The great lesson of the Obama experience may be its illustration of the degree to which a charismatic politician (advanced by an accommodating media) can get a nation — nay, a world —  to shelve its critical faculties. Right out of the gate, Obama appointed as attorney general Eric Holder from a law firm focused on protecting Wall Street, thus notifying bankers central to the financial crash of 2008 that they might continue as before. His legislation to establish an “anti-propaganda center” alarmed First Amendment defenders, as his retaliatory applications of the Espionage Act, aimed at whistleblowers exposing governmental crimes, was used more often than by all previous presidents combined.

Obama’s support of apartheid Israel  was capped by an astounding $38,000,000,000 gift, on top of everything else we give Israel (Note: Israelis enjoy full socialized health coverage). By any humane standard he is a war criminal. And yet, the bulk of the nation misses him. Trump would never get away doing much of what Obama did without fall_out. Trump airs plans to deport undocumented aliens, and streets fill with demonstrators. Obama deported two and a half million people, it all got reported, and the public appeared to have blinders. How come? What’s the difference?

It’s the magic of charisma. Obama’s youthful good looks, million-dollar smile and exceptional verbal ability, gifts and aptitudes of which he was very aware, he applied with skill. Consider this: If you had to debate Obama and had seen his rendition of Amazing Grace — the studied mien, the extended silent moment, and then, head bowed, the slow, warm introduction  — you’d realize your debate against such a master would be the rhetorical equivalent of your getting into the ring with Mike Tyson.

Bill Clinton had charisma too. He signed the Telecommunications Act,  NAFTA , 1994 Crime Bill, and he presided over the repeal of Glass-Steagall and sanctions that caused the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children, but he’s now regarded as an experienced elder statesman. Compare that with decidedly uncharismatic Richard Nixon who signed into law the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. How much of our opinions, political or otherwise, are based on emotional reactions to captivating — or unpleasing — personalities?


“The willingness to go along to get along is as American as the Salem witch trials and apple pie.”

—Lewis Lapham, Gag Rule

Between 1989 and 2016, all four presidents had been students at either Harvard or Yale in some capacity (undergraduate, graduate, law). Economist Lawrence Summers, who advised President Clinton to deregulate Wall Street, was student, then professor, then president at Harvard. Harvard law professors Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule argued for “cognitive infiltration” by undercover governmental agents to influence the thinking of citizen groups. Samantha Power, Sunstein’s wife and U.S. Ambassador to the UN, attended both Harvard and Yale. Every sitting member of the Supreme Court has had education at either Harvard or Yale, as did the late Antonin Scalia (Harvard). Many have have also attended Princeton or Columbia, both Ivy Leagues, or Oxford.

Good Lord!, it’s everywhere you look in the most important sectors of society. Government and the judiciary are jam-packed with a tiny subset that connects to a few socially prestigious “Ivy League” universities, notably Harvard and Yale. Likewise the media. Just consider the nation’s two foremost newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Herewith, ten (there could be more) individuals from each of those two papers, selected from editorial and columnist rosters:

New York Times


Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. … Harvard

Paul Krugman … Yale

Nicholas Kristof … Harvard, Oxford

Ross Douthat …. Harvard

Roger Cohen … Oxford

Joseph Kahn … Harvard

Susan Chira … Harvard

Mark Thompson … Oxford

William Bardeen … Harvard

Kenneth Richieri … Yale

Washington Post


E.J. Dionne … Harvard

David Ignatius … Harvard

Charles Krauthammer … Harvard, Oxford

Ruth Marcus … Yale, Harvard

Ruben Navarrette, Jr. …. Harvard

Eugene Robinson … Harvard

Robert J. Samuelson … Harvard

Fareed Zakaria … Yale, Harvard

Fred Hiatt …. Harvard

Dana Milbank….Yale

So what? you say. Well, there’s a certain way of thinking that pervades those Ivy League campuses of the northeast quadrant, and a former Yale professor, William Deresiewicz, in articles in The American Scholar and the New Republic, and in his book “Excellent Sheep”, critiques the Ivy League and its students so as to expose warts. Because Ivy League offspring enjoy such a level of control within society, it behooves one to consider their approach to life. Here are a few pertinent snippets from Deresiewicz’s pen:

“This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetrating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead ….. where the rich send their children to learn to walk, talk and think like the rich….. elite education manufactures young people…..with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose….. content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them …..people to be pandered to instead of challenged ….. urged to think of yourself as a future leader of society….. played out within the same narrow conception of what constitutes a valid life: affluence, credentials, prestige.”

Deresiewicz depicts a system that indulges early bloomers who are to be pampered, to be trained into a “leadership” class and convinced that they are eligible to protect establishment rules. This instilled attitude they then carry forth as they form dense concentrations in government, law and media.

And here’s the problem: Where such a concentration of a particular, narrow world view exists, it yields the intellectual incest able to perpetuate a dogmatic philosophy generation after generation.

Essayist Lewis Lapham, in his little tome “Gag Rule”, commented on the current state of our Ivy League-dominated media with a searing wit:

“The media compose the pictures of a preferred reality, and their genius is that of the nervous careerist who serves, simultaneously, two masters — the demos, whom they astound with marvels and fairy tales, and the corporate nobility, whose interests they assiduously promote and defend”, and “[A]nybody who rises to prominence in their ranks — as editor, political columnist, publisher, anchorperson, theater critic — learns to think along the accommodating lines of an English butler bringing buttered scones to the Prince of Wales.”

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