The Pajama Boy White House

Meet the 30-somethings who are running our federal government.

By Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online

“Cleverness is not wisdom.”
— Euripides, Bacchae

From left: Ben Rhodes, Jon Favreau, President Obama, and Cody Keenan in 2013. (White House/Flickr)


What exactly has birthed the Pajama Boy aristocracy — our overclass of pretentious, inexperienced, and smug 30-something masters of the universe?

Prolonged adolescence? Affluence? The disappearance of physical chores and muscular labor? The collapse of traditional liberal education and the triumph of the therapeutic mindset? Disdain for or ignorance of life outside the Boston–New York–Washington corridor? Political correctness as a sort of careerist indemnity that allows one to live a sheltered and apartheid existence? The shift in collective values and status from production, agriculture, and manufacturing to government, law, finance, and media? The reinvention of the university as a social-awareness retreat rather than a place to learn?

During the showdown over Obamacare, the pro-Obama PAC Organizing for Action put out an ad now known as “Pajama Boy.” It showcased a young fellow in thick retro-rimmed glasses, wearing black-and-red plaid children’s-style pajamas, and sipping from a mug, with a sort of all-knowing expression on his face. The text urged: “Wear pajamas. Drink hot chocolate. Talk about getting health insurance. #GetTalking.”

Most men in Dayton or Huntsville do not lounge around in the morning in their pajamas, with or without built-in footpads, drinking hot chocolate and scanning health-insurance policies. That our elites either think they do, or think the few that matter do, explains why a nation $20 trillion in debt envisions the battle over transgender restrooms as if it were Pearl Harbor.

In a case of life imitating art, Ethan Krupp, the Organizing for Action employee who posed for the ad, offered a self-portrait of himself that confirmed the photo image. He is a self-described “liberal f***.” “A liberal f*** is not a Democrat, but rather someone who combines political data and theory, extreme leftist views, and sarcasm to win any argument while making the opponents feel terrible about themselves,” he explains. “I won every argument but one.” I suspect that when Krupp boasts about “making opponents feel terrible about themselves,” he is referring to people of his own kind rather than trying such verbal intimidation on the local mechanic or electrician.

The ad was no right-wing caricature of an urban twerp. Through photo, text, and commentary, Krupp confirmed the self-portrait of an in-your-face adolescent who somehow ended up with his 15 minutes of notoriety.

Krupp is emblematic of an entire class of young smart-asses found in Silicon Valley, on campuses across the nation, and in Hollywood, and now ensconced at the highest levels of American government and journalism. Do we remember Jonathan Gruber, the conceited MIT professor and architect of Obamacare, who bragged that he had hoodwinked a supposedly far dumber America in order to ram the Affordable Care Act down its collective throat — while he was paid nearly $300,000 to talk the bill through Congress as a contract analyst for the Department of Health and Human Services? After President Obama had assured the American people that they could keep their doctors and their health plans, while seeing their premium costs decrease, Gruber high-fived that voters were too stupid to figure out how they had been misled:

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” Gruber crowed. “If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay, so it’s written to do that. . . . Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really critical for the thing to pass.”

Note Gruber’s disdain for the public. Like Pajama Boy, he exhibits a visceral contempt for the supposedly less educated whom he helped to deceive. Were supposedly stupid voters who lost their health coverage to this government-run con to feel, in the words of Pajama Boy, “terrible about themselves” once they heard Gruber’s boast?

For the Pajama Boys, rhetoric is everything, reality nothing. Fooling the lower middle classes is the stuff of sarcastic comedy, as in the joshing of two young former Obama speechwriters on a recent Charlie Rose show:

Jon Lovett: I really like, I was very — the joke speeches is the most fun part of this. But the things I’m the most proud of were the most serious speeches, I think. Health care, economic speeches.

Jon Favreau: Lovett wrote the line about “If you like your insurance, you can keep it.”

Lovett: How dare you!

Millions losing their health insurance ends up with Pajama Boy banter — “How dare you!” — with Charlie Rose.

In 2013, a few years after Lovett wrote, “If you like your insurance, you can keep it,” he gave a Pajama Boy graduation address at Pitzer College, in which the 30-year-old sage unknowingly seemed to be warning graduates about people like himself: “One of the greatest threats we face, simply put, is bullshit. We are drowning in it. We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research, in social media’s imitation of human connection, in legalese and corporate double-speak; it infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth, and making it harder to achieve anything. . . . Know that being honest, both about what you do know and what you don’t, can and will pay off. Up until recently I would have said that the only proper response to our culture of B.S. is cynicism, that it would just get worse and worse. But I don’t believe that any more.”

We see the Pajama Boy adding of insult to injury in now-multimillionaire former Wall Street intern Chelsea Clinton — whose husband’s Greek hedge fund just collapsed, and who is the heir to the $100 million Clinton shakedown fortune — sighing that “I tried to care about money but I couldn’t.” Perhaps those who invested in her husband’s disastrous fund still can care about the money they lost. Or note amnesty and open-borders advocate Mark Zuckerberg, who sends his security forces to expropriate parking spaces around his San Francisco digs and buys up neighboring homes around his Palo Alto estate to create his own private border zone.

Recently Ben Rhodes — “Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting,” and author of the president’s Cairo speech and the Benghazi talking points — confessed to the New York Times that he salted bogus talking points about the Iran deal among the field of novice wannabe Washington–New York foreign-policy “experts,” on the expectation that Pajama Boy journalists on the make (“The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing”) would lazily draw on these pseudo-experts to complete the circular con (“We created an echo chamber. . . . They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say”). Because the postmodernist Rhodes (who says he drives a “Beamer”) is cynical and contemptuous of the value of traditional first-hand experience and classical education, he feels he can construct almost any reality he wishes, such as a manufactured reformist Iranian wing reaching out to the U.S. to offer concessions on a nuclear deal:

“In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he says. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project, and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked. . . . We drove them crazy.”

Ben Rhodes gloats over misleading the American people about the conditions that led to the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and how the Obama administration sold the “We drove them crazy” deal as a non-treaty that could be rerouted around Senate approval. But after Rhodes follows other 30-something Obama speechwriters to Hollywood, who cleans up the mess of an Iran blackmailing the Middle East with nuclear-tipped missiles?

Who hires and promotes Pajama Boys? Why, of course, Barack Obama, the Pajama Boy in Chief.

Pajama Boy arrogance? “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”

Pajama Boy condescension? “It’s not surprising then they get bitter — they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Or the prep-school graduate talking down to the elite-forces combat veteran: “Bibi, you have to understand something. . . . I’m the African-American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.”

Pajama Boy cynicism? From the Jeffrey Goldberg interview: “Sarkozy wanted to trumpet the flights he was taking in the air campaign, despite the fact that we had wiped out all the air defenses and essentially set up the entire infrastructure” for the intervention. This sort of bragging was fine, Obama said, because it allowed the U.S. to “purchase France’s involvement in a way that made it less expensive for us and less risky for us.” The president gloats to the obsequious press that the French president is reduced to a clueless glory hog, bought off by the cynical U.S?

Or maybe this is a better example of cynical dissimulation: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan.”

Or maybe the locus classicus of Pajama Boy cynicism was the president supposedly ruling out amnesties and open borders: “Again, I just want to repeat, I’m president, I’m not king. If Congress has laws on the books that say that people who are here who are not documented have to be deported, then I can exercise some flexibility in terms of where we deploy our resources, to focus on people who are really causing problems as opposed to families who are just trying to work and support themselves. But there’s a limit to the discretion that I can show because I am obliged to execute the law. That’s what the Executive Branch means. I can’t just make the laws up by myself. So the most important thing that we can do is focus on changing the underlying laws.”

Note the Pajama Boy phrase “I can’t just make the laws up by myself,” which is of course precisely what Obama planned to do and did.

Pajama Boy pop-psychoanalyzing? Of Putin: “My sense is that’s part of his shtick back home politically as wanting to look like the tough guy.” He has “got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid at the back of the classroom.”

Pajama Boy arrested-development references? “I’m LeBron, baby.” Or of ISIS: “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” Or of Michael Jordan: “There is no doubt that Michael is a better golfer than I am. Of course, if I was playing twice a day for the last 15 years, then that might not be the case.”

Pajama Boy ignorance? If you forget that the politically correct version of the Falklands’ name is “Malvinas,” then just plug in “Maldives,” another non-Western-sounding, exotic-M island group somewhere or another — and assume that journalists “know nothing.” Don’t worry who speaks what language in Austria, or where the death camps were or who liberated them, or whether “corpsmen” is pronounced as if the Marines in question were zombies. There is no need to worry about such things — when hip, cool, sarcastic, and cynical all trump intelligence, experience, and humility every time.

When Euripides in his Bacchae unleashed the reaction to the young Panama Boy prig Pentheus, it was not something measured and rational, but rather the wild maenads. So too is the growing pushback today to the Pajama Boy aristocracy.

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