Neal Gabler—The best and the brightest redux

Posted by Kendall Harmon

When Aauthor David Halberstam wrote his account of what got this nation into Vietnam, he didn’t find that the architects of the war were obtuse or illogical or commie-obsessed or infatuated with American might. Instead, in Halberstam’s now iconic term that became the title of his best-selling book, they were “the best and the brightest’’ — a superior governing class that was the product of America’s best families, its most prestigious prep schools and universities, and most august law firms and investment banks. The irony is that these geniuses turned out to be so dangerously wrong that the very term “best and the brightest’’ became a sarcastic euphemism for a hubris that leads to disaster.

One might have thought, then, that the “best and the brightest’’ would have been eternally discredited like the war they promulgated. But Barack Obama has such a strange, almost reverential faith in the very sorts of folks Halberstam flayed that the president threatens to lead his administration and the country down the same hubristic path....

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistory* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralOffice of the PresidentPresident Barack Obama* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.

4 Comments
Posted July 26, 2010 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. AnglicanFirst wrote:

Along with the “Best and the Brightest” Syndrom, goes a lack of conscience.

As an example, Robert McNamara was complicit, along with President Johnson in a horrible mismanagement of the Vietnam War.

This mismanagement stretched all the way from policy to day-to-day details.  It included a contempt for the American people and our military leaders that placed the President and Secretary of Defense, in their minds, above having to explain in plain American English, threat information /threat implications and alternative courses of action to the American people.

July 26, 12:17 pm | [comment link]
2. David Keller wrote:

#1—Before I say what I am going to say, please be aware that we are on the exact same sheet of music.  But, McNamara’s failing, in my view, was preceisly because he was “managing” (or mismanaging)the Viet Nam war.  He was tring to run a war like a Ford assembly line.  The tools of war can’t even be created by “management”.  Look at the F111, which was a perfect aircraft if you are a management consultant, but not if you are a combat pilot. Everything they did in “managing” the war was wrong because military leaders “lead”; they don’t manage. When I first went in the military, it was still the Vietnam era of the “PhD General”.  Lots of them were real smart, policy wonks, but they couldn’t have led thirsty soldiers to a Coke machine. The failing of the Best and Brightest was they thought, as does Obama, that because they were the elite, if their carefully constructed management plan fails, it has to be somebody else’s fault.

July 26, 1:36 pm | [comment link]
3. John Wilkins wrote:

Of course, since Reagan, the best and the brightest also often decided to go into finance, banking and hedge funds.

July 26, 10:39 pm | [comment link]
4. David Keller wrote:

#3—Which is why September 2008 happened.  Same scenario—just the casualties were different.

July 27, 8:28 am | [comment link]
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