The new elite

This issue illustrates how an unelected New Elite undermines American freedoms

Twin Cities attorney David Lebedoff is a shrewd political philosopher. He used a guest column in the last issue of Thinking Minnesota to describe a class of political elites in America that could be undermining American democracy. Lebedoff first portrayed these elites in a 1978 article in Esquire called The Dangerous Arrogance of the New Elite and later expanded his thoughts in the book, The Uncivil War: How a New Elite is Destroying our Democracy.

He calls them the “test-score meritocracy,” people who achieve political status through academic achievement. Think lawyers, media, government officials, and academics, and certainly not business owners, entrepreneurs, union members or other Americans they might call “the working class.”

This New Elite, he said, “feel that their cognitive superiority has been proven and that they know what’s best for everyone else,” whether or not they acquire their power through the voting booth.

This edition of Thinking Minnesota provides a couple vivid (and alarming) illustrations of his thesis in action.

Our cover story, Twin Cities Traffic Congestion: It’s No Accident, includes vivid details about how the Met Council is quietly—and undemocratically—pursuing strategies to worsen traffic congestion as part of its larger objective to push people to ride their bikes, take buses or ride the train. This behavior represents a textbook illustration of how unelected New Elite government bureaucrats can use their unaccountable authority over transportation and housing policies to plot a liberal social structure.

This needs to change. The Met Council was created to coordinate regional services that accommodate growth. It has been allowed to reinvent its mission and take on authority it was never meant to have.

Someone mentioned to me that Minnesotans would be outraged if they ever really knew how the Met Council’s authoritarian and stridently liberal policy prescriptions were going to affect their lives in the future. American Experiment is trying to address that by expanding its outreach efforts. These efforts, with a call to action, include billboards, bumper stickers, and radio ads, run especially during traffic reports.

My interview with Howard Root, the founder and former CEO of Vascular Solutions, provides another account of the consequences of dealing with the New Elite, this time on a very personal level.

I met Root in 1984 when he was a young associate at Dorsey & Whitney working on legal issues related to a startup called Arden Medical. He impressed us all with his thoughtful, straight-ahead style, his meticulous attention to detail, and superb writing skills. He later exercised those same skills as an entrepreneur when he founded med device manufacturer Vascular Solutions and over 10 years built it into a $70 million company that employed 650 taxpaying Minnesotans. I knew he had been exonerated in a testy federal lawsuit, but, as they say, I had no idea

Last February, I picked up Cardiac Arrest: Five Heart-Stopping Years as a CEO on the Feds’ Hit-List, a book in which Root chronicles his almost surreal assault by a justice system whose pursuit of truth or justice were as illusory as the evidence they gathered against him. I finished the book in just two days. Using a one-man-against-the-system narrative that rivals John Grisham, Root describes how he and his company were thrust into a surreal legal tangle engineered by a cadre of unsupervised New Elite persecutors. (Government lawyers, it seems, are the Imperial Guard of the New Elite.)

Root watched in disbelief as a “whistleblower” lawsuit filed by a disgruntled employee in Texas metastasized into a five-year legal nightmare in which his company spent $25 million in legal expenses to pay 121 lawyers at 14 different law firms nationwide to represent more than 50 employees and customers who became involved.

Once in the courtroom, the government’s arguments fell apart and he was quickly exonerated, without even offering a defense. When it was over, one juror emailed Root to say, “What the federal government did to you, your company and your employees is nothing short of criminal.”

Root agrees. He may have prevailed in court, but “the big punishment in these cases is the process.” For 15 months he lived as an indicted CEO “and that is real punishment for a person, whether or not you win at trial.”

He sold Vascular Solutions for $1.1 billon and will never again serve as a corporate CEO, knowing now that “any business in America can get indicted and the CEO thrown in jail for a salesperson saying a wrong word.” His mission now is judicial reform. “The lack of control over prosecutors is the single biggest danger to freedom in America,” he told me.

Root provides interesting insights about his experience in my interview, but it is nothing like reading his book (buy it!), or even viewing his presentation on our website (

As you do, think about how these arrogant and reckless federal prosecutors embody David Lebedoff’s description of the New Elite. Scary stuff.