Jenna Bush’s Genetic Advantage: Her Last Name

By Channing Kennedy Aug 31, 2009

Jenna Bush, daughter of George W., has just been hired on by The Today Show. This is good news for us, because it’s handed some of our favorite bloggers a stick with which to poke conservative ideas of meritocracy. Adam Serwer frames it thus:

I have a lot of friends who spent a great deal of money, and went into a lot of debt, to learn how to be professional broadcast journalists. They are now struggling to find work in a profession that is — to put it bluntly — contracting. So when I first heard that Jenna Bush Hager, the former President’s daughter, was getting a job with The Today Show, I wondered what her qualifications were. … She "always wanted to be a teacher," and was "intrigued" by television, so I guess that qualifies her to be an education reporter over all those journalists with actual experience and education who are struggling to find jobs.

And Glenn Greenwald underscores a laundry list of nepotism’s unquestioned benefactors here:

All of the above-listed people are examples of America’s Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work — The American Way. By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor — who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice — is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

Neither blogger suggests that conservatives are alone in mislabeling meritocracy, or that privilege negates one’s ability to work for the less well-pedigreed (look to Ted Kennedy’s work for civil rights, minimum wage, protections for farmworkers, etc.). The point remains: we’re in a media environment in which, for example, Greg Mankiw is getting paid money to argue that that people with "good genes" make lots of money and pass their intelligence off to their kids who then get high SAT scores. It’s important to remember just who our media and political elites are, and to understand how uncomfortable it must be for them to discuss a story like Sotomayor’s — a story full of unfair obstacles more familiar to them as unacknowledged advantages.