Chris Powell: Clinton, Trump stand on privilege; Democrats' college-promise boondoggle

Hillary Clinton has been at the top of national politics since becoming something of a co-president with her husband, Bill, in 1993. Leaving the White House in 2001, she became U.S. senator from New York. Narrowly losing the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, she became his secretary of state in 2009, resigning in 2013 to run for president again.

For 23 years no one has been more of an insider. Even sympathetic observers acknowledge that Clinton is seeking what they call Obama's third term, just as Vice President George H.W. Bush sought and won Ronald Reagan's third term in 1988.

But the country is unhappy and clamoring for change. So addressing the Democratic National Convention last Tuesday night, Bill Clinton described his wife as "the best darn change maker I have ever met." To drive home the pose for the national television audience, delegates waved machine-printed signs reading "Change maker," signifying that the former president's seemingly folksy, personaland spontaneous reminiscences about his wife, now the party's presidential nominee, were actually precisely calculated.

So the Democrats will aim to try to offer the country continuity and change at the same time.

But then the insurgency offered by the Republican nominee, real estate developer Donald Trump, isn't much more persuasive. In his speech to the Republican National Convention, Trump denounced the political system as rigged, just as some Democratic leaders have done, and then claimed to be the only person who could fix it because he knows it so well -- presumably because he has made a career from it.

That is, both Clinton and Trump come to the election as products of the greatest privilege. The British writer and historian Hilaire Belloc made it rhyme:

The accursed power which stands on Privilege

(And goes with Women and Champagne and Bridge)
Broke -- and Democracy resumed her reign:
(Which goes with Bridge, and Women, and Champagne).Chr

* * *

Supporting free tuition at public colleges, the Democratic national platform inadvertently has admitted that for most students a college education is worthless, more of a handicap than a help.

For if a college education was as valuable as supposed, graduates would not be bemoaning their college loan debt. That debt would be comfortably repayable from the higher earnings grads would enjoy.

Instead, of course, many grads are finding that higher-paying jobs are not available to them, partly because the national economy isn't producing enough jobs that require higher education and partly because grads don't qualify, their college education not having conferred useful knowledge and skills.

Indeed, at many colleges political indoctrination has supplanted useful learning. These days a quarter of retail clerks and 15 percent of taxi drivers hold college degrees, and while everyone can benefit from more knowledge, it doesn't always pay for itself.

The country's real education problem is lower education. Half to two-thirds of high school seniors, even in Connecticut, are not mastering high school English or mathematics or both but, in a system of social promotion, they are given diplomas anyway and sent on to college needing remedial work.

But rather than level with the country about social promotion and the collapse of educational standards and thereby prick the college bubble, the Democrats would transfer its huge costs to taxpayers, bailing out not just the disappointed college grads but, more so, another Democratic constituency -- educators, many of whose jobs are no more necessary than those of elevator operators.

Chris Powell is an essayist on political and cultural matters and managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.