The rule of midwits

With administrators seemingly so unpopular with the public, one might wonder why Democrats are so eager to defend them. The reason appears to be little more than a dogma, a crude mimicry of the Reagan Republican emphasis on free markets. Instead of the free-marketeer, the Democrats’ figure of affection is the bureaucrat, the middle manager, the good-old insider who knows how an institution works and is tied everlastingly to it. The threat of greater democratic participation in setting school curricula or determining COVID measures leads Democrats to cry “authoritarianism,” “fascism,” and “coup,” just as reflexively as Reaganites once called the public provision of services “socialist.” The New York Times captured this well when it portrayed laws establishing some degree of parental control over public school curricula as “a War on Democracy.”

The key term for understanding the ferocity of the Democratic attachment to mid-level managers is “midwit.” A midwit is typically described as someone with an IQ score between 85 and 115; more colloquially, it describes a person with slightly above-average ability in any domain—someone who is able to pass basic qualifications and overcome standard hurdles but who is in no way exceptional. For a dominant political party, this is an obvious constituency and exactly the type of person you want on your side. While midwits often are preferable to dimwits for obvious reasons, they’re also preferable to an elite (those with exceptional abilities but who may not wield power) that might one day decide to overturn existing structures and ways of doing things.

While competition for authority might, in some contexts, be well worth the value that a member of the elite contributes, this is rarely the case in incumbent political institutions, most of which depend for their survival on restricting intellectual input. Even if incumbent institutions could attract elites initially, elites would eventually abandon them, either to work in institutions less burdened by historical constraints or else in fields that are dominated more by objective rather than subjective measures of skill and accomplishment.