Monday, May 5, 2014

How Preppy Were the Presidents?

There’s a lot of talk these days about “elites.” It’s a favorite trope of the Republicans, who typically cite academics, and actors, and policy wonks, and anyone else they can come up with who seem to be “out of touch” with the average Joe. Now, I’ve always assumed that’s just pure projection, as I can’t imagine who could possibly be more elite than the super rich and the politicians who serve them. 

I was wondering, though … Is there a way we can measure “eliteness”? Hmm …  Ever read The Official Preppy Handbook? I can’t imagine a better place to start than that. But how to quantify all the things that that book covers? Square footage of madras in closet? Use of dorky nicknames, like Trip or Tipper or Poppy? 

Well, heck, why not just cut to the chase and measure whether a politician went to prep school or not? Or an Ivy (the college equivalent)? Yup, I think we’ve got a winner. So, here’s how it’ll work:
  • 1 point for attending prep school
  • 1 point for an Ivy bachelors
  • 1 point for an Ivy postgraduate degree

And what I’ll be looking at is presidential elections from 1868 to 2012. I think that defines the modern political scene pretty well, in addition to giving plenty of opportunity for our candidates to turn up the collars of their polo shirts as well.

Who’s the Preppiest of Them All?

Well, overall, would you believe it’s the Democrats? Yup, 39 to 32. My guess, though, is most of that can be attributed to a single person, one Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That fine Groton and Harvard grad (2 points) was on the ticket no less than four times (8 points). Take him out of the picture, and things are pretty even.

The preppiest ticket? Well, only one ticket garnered 4 points. And that one was Gore / Lieberman. That’s St. Albans and Harvard for the first guy, and Yale and Yale Law for the second one. More Dems. Hmm …

Gore / Lieberman
(+1 point for button-down collar,
-1 point for pit stain)

I’ve also got several with 3 points each:

Year Party Prez Points Veep Points
1912 Rep Taft 1 Butler 2
1956 Dem Stevenson 2 Kefauver 1
1972 Dem McGovern 0 Shriver 3
1992 Dem Clinton 1 Gore 2
1996 Dem Clinton 1 Gore 2
2000 Rep Bush 3 Cheney 0
2004 Rep Bush 3 Cheney 0

The preppiest candidate

Well, as you can probably tell from the graph above, we’ve got two. On the Democratic side, we’ve got Sargent Shriver. That’s Canterbury, Yale, and Yale Law. Extra points for the surname as first name and for marrying a Kennedy. 

R. Sargent Shriver Weds Eunice Kennedy
May 23, 1953, St. Patricks Cathedral, New York, NY

One the Republican side, we’ve got “Dubya,” the regular guy with the Texas drawl who everyone wanted to share a beer with. For him, it’s Phillips Andover, Yale, and Harvard Biz School. 

George W. Bush
Phillips Andover cheerleader

Are We Getting Preppier?

Well, if it wasn’t obvious from the table above, we are indeed getting preppier. Here’s graphical proof:

If you need a little help interpreting this:
  • The X axis is presidential elections (1 = 1868, 38 = 2012)
  • The Y axis is total points (all prez and veep candidates combined)

By the way, those elections with 0 points? They were:

Year Dem Prez Dem VP Rep Prez Rep VP
1880 Hancock English Garfield Arthur
1884 Cleveland Hendricks Blaine Logan
1888 Cleveland Thurman Harrison Morton
1892 Cleveland Stevenson Harrison Reid
1924 Davis Bryan Coolidge Dawes
1928 Smith Robinson Hoover Curtis

What Does It All Mean?

Well, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that Republicans are preppy. Like I said before, the party is basically for the super rich, the politicians who serve them, and any chumps from the other 99% they can get to vote for them.

But why would Democrats be preppy? I mean, they’re the party of the people, right? Now, Republicans would like us to think that Democrats are all pointy-headed intellectuals who are totally out of touch and think they know best for all of us.

An alternative explanation, though, would relate to something called noblesse oblige. Perhaps you need to have gone to a prep school or Ivy to know what that means, but basically it’s the same as the biblical saying “to whom much is given, much is expected in return.”

In other words, if I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, is it really necessary for me to take bread out of other the mouths of others? Shouldn’t I feel secure enough that I don’t need to do that sort of thing? Perhaps I should even occasionally help out at the soup kitchen. I don’t know ...