The Rise Of The Overclass

You've probably never heard of the overclass, which is just how its members like it; they have a lot to answer for. They are the people who put Jim Carrey on magazine covers, who renamed blue-green "teal" and keep loaning money to Donald Trump--not out of any sinister conspiracy to ruin the country but because, well, it's their job. As "professionals" and "managers" they lay claim to an increasing share of the national income, but they wind up spending most of it at mirror-walled restaurants where they have to eat $10 arugula salads. They're famous for having opinions, but it's hard to know what these are, since they never call talk-radio shows. If they didn't exist we'd have to invent them, because otherwise we'd have no answer to the question, whatever happened to all those Yuppies we used to see running around, anyway?

We are witnessing an epochal moment in American sociology, the birth of a new class. There is, obviously, nothing new in the fact that some people in America have more money, influence and prestige than others. But designating them "the overclass" is not just another way for journalists to package the squeal of the skewered bourgeoisie. When "the poor" became "the underclass" it meant no longer thinking of them as just "a lot of people without money," but as the inheritors of a "culture of poverty." Similarly, the overclass refers to a group with a common culture and interests, with the obvious difference from the underclass that nobody is trying to get out of the overclass.

Important discoveries like this always galvanize the national dialogue. Michael Lind, who gives a neo-Marxian analysis of the overclass in his new book "The Next American Nation," was still being attacked last week from both the left and the right, even as The Atlantic Monthly was arriving in mailboxes with a cover story by Nicholas Lemann on "The Structure of Success in America." Lind puts more emphasis on race and parentage, while Lemann dwells more on the role of SAT tests in determining who gets the goodies in American society. But they're talking about the same people, who are also part of the IQ elite described in last year's best seller "The Bell Curve."

And this same insight resonates throughout society. Marketing consultants are already whacking the overclass into demographic slices so thin that they can peel off the Lexus segment from that for Infinitis. Political consultants study how to covertly appeal to the newly identified bloc, while simultaneously attacking their opponents for pandering to it. Bashing an elite is always great political sport. But somehow the people derided by the left as "corporate America" and by the right as the "liberal establishment" seldom find their real interests seriously threatened.

Who is the overclass? It is hard to talk about class in America, a country in which 90 percent of adults in defiance of statistics and common sense identify themselves to pollsters as "middle class." What distinguishes the overclass, in fact, is precisely its effort to distance itself from the middle class, rather than lay claim to it. If the over-class is hard to define, it's because it is a state of mind and also a slice on the income curve. But it is not a ruling class: Bill Clinton seems to belong, but Newt Gingrich clearly doesn't; Bill Gates does, but probably not the chairman of Dow Chemical. The over-class obviously is affluent, but how much is that in dollars? Lind refers to families in the top "quintile," or 20 percent, of household income, because most government statistics are kept that way. But that implies a cutoff of only about $67,000 a year. Any figure is necessarily arbitrary, but it seems more logical to speak of a class consisting of the top 5 percent in household income, roughly 12.5 million people with incomes starting at $115,182.

That figure-- more than three times the median household income--probably seems extravagant to most Americans, but Fortune magazine recently proclaimed on its cover the alarming news that the new standard for executive pay is "four times your age"--in other words, $120,000 at the age of $0. The fact is that no matter how many Danielle Steel novels we read most of us have only the vaguest idea of the lives of people much richer (or poorer) than we are. Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, once asked voters to imagine what it would be like to have dinner with their congress-men. Overwhelmingly they described a meal out of an Edith Wharton novel, with liveried servants and string quartets. Congressmen make $133,600 a year.

But money is not the only entry requirement. Inherited wealth doesn't count for much, unless you're actively investing it yourself, preferably in something creative luke a yogurt plant in Kazakhstan, nor does income from a local business like a fast-food franchise. (Owning a Cajun or Tuscan restaurant is OK, though, even if it loses money.) The overclass is national, or even transnational, in outlook, although its members mostly cluster on both coasts. It judges people, itself included, mainly on "merit," a quality that can be demonstrated only by a continual and strenuous accumulation of academic and professional credentials. Even more than money, it values competitive achievement: books published, screenplays produced, products launched, elections won. Of course, those things generally translate into money in the end anyway.

You might think that anyone would be proud to be associated with such a productive and successful class, but somehow that's not the case. The overclass, in fact, is one of the most anguished and self-doubting oligarchies in history, a habit of mind that began in the first act that defined it as a generation, its resistance to being drafted for Vietnam. "We've kept our compact with ourselves," says Chicago novelist and lawyer Scott Turow. "We know the unexamined life is not worth living, we're good parents, we recycle. But what have we done for anybody else? That's the question people of this class will ask when their kids are grown." Who wants to be in that position? Not I, says Eric Redman, a partner in a big Seattle law office, with a corner office on the 61st floor of Seattle's tallest building. Also a Rhodes scholar, a Harvard Law graduate and a member of the Harvard class of 1970--of whom nearly 30 percent, responding to an anonymous survey for their 25th reunion, reported a net worth of more than $1 million. But Redman describes himself as just a "glorified hourly wage slave . . . My broker told me the really big money isn't being made in salaries, but real estate and stock options." So count him out. What about Faith Popcorn, the endlessly quotable president of a marketing firm called Brain Reserve, who lives and works in her own town house in the most expensive part of Manhattan? Not her either. "I'm not psychologically like those rich people," she says. "I lived in a studio apartment for 25 years before I bought my brownstone, and my cottage in Wainscott [a fashionable section in the Hamptons] is only 750 square feet."

Perhaps they just don't realize that the overclass is not the old-fashioned, discredited, morally bankrupt aristocracy. "They're the first wave of people who went to Ivy League schools on .their merits, did well and are still hustling to do well," says Nelson W. Aldrich Jr.-himself a scion of an old aristocratic family and the author of "Old Money." The overclass was made possible by the transformation in the 1950s and 1960s of the Ivy League from a closed network dedicated to serving the least disreputable offspring of the WASP elite into a great machine for identifying future national leaders. A degree from an Ivy League or equivalent school is an almost indispensable credential of overclass membership--and not only because it presumes that you learned something while getting it. "At the highest levels," Lind says, "everyone was a roommate in college." Turow, who has degrees from Amherst, Stanford and Harvard, says friends sometimes ask him whether their children really need $100,000 worth of higher education to get ahead in life. "If you're asking me whether an Ivy League graduate will have access in ways that don't exist to graduates of otherwise outstanding schools like the University of Illinois," he tells them, "the answer is yes."

The overclass leads a distinctive lifestyle, which basically reflects Yuppie tastes updated to take into account its increased affluence, sophistication, and of course weight-often a simple matter of substituting a Mercedes SL320 for a 10-speed bicycle. It is a lifestyle founded on privilege--on the premise, according to Stan Schultz, a cultural historian at the University of Wisconsin, that "we are terribly busy souls doing important things that no one else can do. . ." so of course we have to fly business class, we need a full-time nanny instead of day care, we eat out four nights a week instead of trying to make our oven risotto with squid ink. The widespread belief that Yuppies as a class would perish from Brie-cheese poisoning turned out to be over-optimistic. They're still at it, according to the consumer-research wizards of Claritas, Inc., who have identified a specific segment of the overclass, comprising mostly urban singles and couples without children, whose members eat Brie cheese at more than five times the national average.

Politically, the overclass exists in a state of perpetual tension between its economic interests, which lie with the Republicans, and its psychological affinity for the Democrats. "One trait that comes through the data is the economic conservatism of this group," says Tom W. Smith of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. "They don't like to give money away." But their values are libertarian and cosmopolitan-typically pro-choice on abortion, pro-NAFTA on trade, environmentally aware. And at odds, therefore, with the Republican social agenda, which is driven by groups like the Christian Coalition (founded by Yale Law School alumnus Pat Robertson) and The Family Research Council, which actively loathe everything about the overclass, except its money. "If you're making six figures, Republicans aren't hurting you," said Diana Sperrazza, a TV news producer vacationing on Nantucket Island this summer. "You don't want to think about it," she says. "You have a foot in each camp, really."

It's likely those tendencies described by Sperrazza actually cancel each other out. As far as political power goes, individual members of the overclass naturally serve in high positions--such as the presidency--in both parties. But except for those whose careers are actually in politics or journalism, they don't seem to wield extraordinary influence. "These people want access and power," says Maria Cantwell, a former Democratic congresswoman who represented Seattle's East Side, home to many Microsoft millionaires. "But they're too busy to use it. They're used to the fast track to make things happen. That's not government."

One of Lind's most controversial points is that the overclass has used its money and access to manipulate public policy, enriching itself at the expense of everyone else. But the money and access that count in Congress are wielded by institutions, not "classes" composed of disparate individuals. Much has been made of the reduction in marginal tax rates since 1980. But over the same period many loopholes were closed, so that while tax burdens were shifted around some among individuals, as a group the top 5 percent paid 31 percent of all federal income taxes last year--up from 27.8 percent in 1977. It is true that the gap in after-tax income between the richest Americans and all the others has been growing. But economists now agree that the government's consumer price index, which is used to adjust income statistics, overstates the effect of inflation on people's wages. By other measures, middle-class income is growing--slowly--the poor are stagnating, and the rich are getting richer, very rapidly.

If it lacks a distinctive political interest, the overclass nevertheless has an ideology, the ideology of "merit." Its success validates its intelligence and effort. Other oligarchies in the past have made similar assertions, of course, but the overclass is the first that is able to demonstrate superiority mathematically, with the help of SAT scores. "They believe they create their job, their opportunity and their wealth," says Edward Blakely, dean of urban planning at the University of Southern California. The attitude he describes may account for the peculiar reaction the overclass has to failure, such as the loss of a job. Its members decline to acknowledge it. "Their view," says Peter Meder, who rims an executive-search firm in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield, "is still one of total entitlement. . . . The opening line is, 'I'm networking right now. I'm taking some time off to evaluate my options.' Can you imagine a factory worker or a retail-store manager getting fired and saying, 'I'm taking time off to evaluate my options?'"

In the abstract, "merit" is a wonderful ideal, and a far more efficient way to allocate rewards in a modern society than, say, primogeniture. Of course, in the real world luck plays a role in everyone's life; some people go to high school in Beverly Hills and some in East St. Louis. But people who believe that all rewards flow from merit tend not to have much sympathy for life's failures. "As you do well, you convince yourself that anyone can do well," says Stephen Klineberg, a sociologist at Rice University. "They don't feel particularly connected to the plight of the working class," says Blakely. When a factory worker loses his job, the overclass isn't hostile, just uncomprehending, he says: "It's a case of 'What's wrong with them? Why can't they go back to school?'"

Failure just is not an option for the over-class. Elise Gunter, a successful Hollywood lawyer, had dinner with an investment-banker friend recently, who explained his theory that America is becoming a two-tier society. One class will have the autonomy to live where and how it wants; the other will be increasingly constrained and shut out. Pedigree and power, money and education will make the difference, and so he had set out to become as rich and successful as possible. "You couldn't imagine anyone saying that 10 or 15 years ago," she said with a shudder. "But he said it matter-of-factly, as if to say, 'Of course that's the way it is.' On the one hand it was disturbing, but part of me agrees with that."

Gunter's friend had an extreme case, verging on paranoia, of a more general overclass anxiety: "You could call them scared to death, leading lives of quiet desperation," says Aldrich. "Or not-so-quiet desperation. They talk about their desperation while eating out." This belief in the coming triumph of the smart and rich helps explain why the over-class is so driven to reject so vehemently middle-class values and tastes. Is health the only reason so few of them smoke? Or is it also a way of choosing sides with the winners? "'We are the talented few'," says Schultz. "'We wouldn't think of going to Las Vegas, except once to be able to comment on how tacky America is'." Can anyone doubt that arugula would quickly be seen for the bitter, stringy vegetable it actually is if Burger King began offering it on sandwiches?

Of course, salad vegetables don't have much significance, even symbolically. But other personal choices, such as where to live and send children to school, very much do. Increasingly the overclass is choosing to live in ways that minimize its mixing with the middle class (which is doing the same, of course, with respect to the poor). Sometimes it just moves farther out into the suburbs, or higher up the high-rise. But increasingly often it chooses to live in a walled and gated community guarded by private security forces. "It becomes a matter of status not to have contact [with strangers]," observes Mike Davis, a perceptive critic of Los Angeles society. "Physical isolation is a luxury." In Laguna Niguel, a wealthy Orange County beach town, a group of homeowners won permission to put gates at their entry roads--guarding not just the 250 homes, but a public park right in the middle of their subdivision. The plan is being challenged in court by another resident of the town.

No issue is more fraught with desperation for the overclass than schools. Their conviction that they rose to their eminence in one generation on "merit" leads inescapably to the conclusion that their own kids might not make it, or deserve to. But few are willing to put that proposition to the test; instead they maneuver frantically to get their offspring into the best possible private schools, starting (in highly competitive environments such as Manhattan) with preschool before the age of 3. "Those who believe in public education as a democratic ideal," says Pearl Kane, an authority on independent schools at Columbia University Teachers College, "move to Greenwich, Conn., and pay a million dollars for their homes." Those who do it are like one well-to-do Los Angeles mother, a former public-school teacher herself, who says bluntly that the problem with the public schools is having children of different social classes, where "they don't have the same values in their home . . . if I'm working hard to push my child I want to make sure the other parents are, too." One development soon to be built in California has hit on the perfect overclass solution: a gated community with a private school inside.

And let's wish the future residents long and happy lives, in contented ignorance of people like Michael Brennan, a union electrician from Arlington Heights, Ill. He had a few years of college, intending to be a teacher, but lost interest. When a friend from college derided people with "dead-end jobs," Brennan thought to himself, "Hey, some people just want to feed their kids and meet their responsibilities." He's working now on a job at a big Chicago law firm, and when he shows up at 2 a.m. to shut off the power, he finds lawyers still at their desks from 18 hours before, even on weekends. Some of them probably feel sorry for or even contemptuous toward him. They probably think, if they think about it at all, that he envies them. They're very wrong. "Some of these people I feel sorry for," he says. "You wonder if they've sold their souls. Life's pretty short." Even for the overclass.

1. The object above is . . .

(a) a weed

(b) the Jolly Green Giant's codpiece

(c) a bunch of arugula

2. Have you ever bought stock in an initial public offering?

(a) yes

(b) no

3. The object above is used to . . .

(a) change light bulbs in high ceilings

(b) catch crappie in your local fishing hole

(c) play the game of lacrosse

4. Choate Rosemary Hall is . . .

(a) a chain of women's discount-clothing stores

(b) the classic '50s crooner who pitched paper towels

(c) a boarding school in Connecticut

5. A 401(k) refers to . . .

(a) a kind of footrace

(b) a new breakfast cereal

(c) a tax-deferred retirement account

6. True or false: You can tell the difference between a Manet and

a Monet

7. Unscramble the following: StaMsirtear; Lobletroop; Shamart

Drivenay; KNDY

8. To you, a public office is

(a) a public trust

(b) a place to steal

(c) a real financial sacrifice but a great place to network

9. Do you a book a shiatsu massage on every business trip?

10. Has your child ever called your nanny "Mommy?"

(a) yes

(b) no

11. Did you take a year off from college to find yourself?

12. Which has more milk?

(a) a tall cappuccino

(b) a dry cappuccino

(c) a mocha cappuccino

13. Have you ever seen someone you actually know on "Jenny Jones"

or "Cops"?

14. You use this vehicle almost exclusively for:

(a) driving off-road in the Appalachian Mountains

(b) getting around the Louisiana bayous

(c) driving on newly repaved suburban roads from home to the

country club

15. Do you haul back issues of The New York Review of Books to

vacation in Tuscany?

16. Fill in the blank: "Wow, I heard a really great(underbar)on


(a) sermon

(b) Loretta Lynn song

(c) stock tip

Answers: (1) c; (2) a; (3) c; (4) c; (5) c; (6) true; (7)

StairMaster; Portobello; Martha's Vineyard; DKNY; (8) c; (9) yes;

(10) a; (11) yes; (12) a; (13) no; (14) c; (15) yes; (16) c

Scoring yourself: 0-7: You're not going to be running the country

any time soon

8-15: You obviously know your Pellegrino from your Perrier, but

maybe it's time to send your kinds to YMCA camp for a change

Perfect score: Proceed to Kmart and get back in touch with America

Matt Williams, 44, wrote for proto-overclass sitcom "The Cosby Show" and fueled blue-collar chic as creator of "Roseanne." Now he's executive producer of "Home Improvement"-and said to be a top SKG Dream Team draft pick.

Shelby Coffey III, 48, won kudos as editor of the Los Angeles Times for his paper's coverage of riots and quakes, but he sometimes looks too chummy with The Industry. Reputed pals include Michael Eisner and Mike Ovitz. Big layoffs at paper send some employees spinning out of the overclass.

Louis Rossetto, 46, first shopped the idea for his digital-age magazine four years ago, but nobody wanted to pluG in. Now the hype-happy Wired editor and publisher's monthly is required reading for the Net set.

Chris Matthews, 49, San Francisco Examiner Washington bureau chief and author of clever political how-to guide, "Hardball." A sound-bite savant, he hustled so many talk-show appearances they just gave him one of his own.

Janet Billig, 27, may have something to do with the racket coming from Junior's room. The former manager of Nirvana, Hole and the Breeders jumped the fence in January to Atlantic Records, where, as a VP, she'll dish out more of the same.

Brian Williams, 36, projects a confident blandness, giving him the inside track to succeed Tom Brokaw as NBC's nightly anchor. Though he's the net's White House correspondent, he goes where the power story is playing.

Judy McGrath, 42, joined MTV soon after its founding in 1981. She's risen from copywriter to creative director to president, shaping the face of the network that's supercharging the style and pacing of all TV. Do you loathe Beavis and Butthead? Blame her.

Charles Murray, 52, achieved notoriety a decade ago calling for the end of welfare in "Losing Ground." In last year's "The Bell Curve," his linkage of race and IQ made him the most controversial social scientist of his time.

Wayne Wang, 46, has earned acclaim for a string of offbeat films that explored the Asian-American diaspora. In his new movie, "Smoke," the Hong Kong native proves equally at home with a roguish gang at Brooklyn storytellers.

Donna Karan, 46, is the Henry Ford of fashion: you can have any color you want-as long as it's black. She's expanded her line to include children and men, and her smart ads have so supersaturated the atmosphere that people who don't know a handbag from a glad rag know DKNY. She's venerated for clothes blending style and comfort-and they've become the overclass boardroom uniform of choice.

Kurt Andersen, 40, helped members of the overclass feel superior to their lampooned brethren as cofounder of the scathing '80s must-read Spy. The Harvard man with the overdeveloped taste buds now runs influential city mag New York.

Nicholas Lemann, 40, says he's "a little skeptical of this whole overclass theory." but as national correspondent for the highbrow Atlantic Monthly, the author of "The Promised Land" is squarely in the middle of it, completing a new book on class and success in the meritocracy.

Matthew Marks, 32, is the most adroit art dealer of the post-Mary Boone generation, with a smart little shop in uptown Manhattan and a huge new space in trendy Chelsea. If you've got six figures and a taste for hype, he's got the Julian Schnabel.

Walter Isaacson, 43, New Media editor at Time Warner. Rhodes scholar, historian and marathon glitterati schmoozer, he is charged with merging Luce Empire onto the Info Highway. A boy wonder for two decades.

Leslie Moonves, 45, was just hired to head CBS's entertainment division. In his old job at Warner Brothers, he lured even the TV-leery to the tube with megahits like "E.R." and "Friends"-and made WB the leading supplier of network shows.

Katie Couric, 38, wins ratings and amuses bleary overclass travellers, who watch the energetic NBC "Today" cohost in lonely hotels. Katie hates "perky." But she is.

Christopher Buckley, 42, is the son of conservative Godfather Bill, did go to Yale and did write speeches for George Bush. But as a magazine editor, satirical novelist ("Thank You for Smoking") and legendary cocktail-circuit raconteur, he had drolly ad-libbed his own irreverent success story.

Thomas Rogers, 40, is charged with moving NBC into the 21st century. As president of cable and business development, he honchos CNBC, NBC Online and, in partnership with Microsoft, a budding interactive TV operation.

Maureen Orth, 49, sharpened her eye for pomposity as a House staffer and with filmmaker Lina Wertmuller. In D.C., the former NEWSWEEK writer rustles other schmoozers with husband Tim Russert, pens poison profiles of powerful pooh-bahs from Madonna to Arianna Huffington.

Ann Godoff, 46, plugged-in editorial director of Random House, has the knack for turning offbeat straw into gold (like John Berendt's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"). She jump-started Random's re-emergence as publishing's hot shop.

Robert Morton, 42, known as "Morty," helps entertain insomniacs both as executive producer for the oh-so-ironic "Late Show With David Letterman" and as a fixture on the Manhattan-to-Montauk party circuit.

John Grisham, 40, has made a fortune writing thrillers about loners who whip the establishment. The Mississippi bred writer waves young overclass aspirants away from trapping themselves with wasteful careers in the law.

Cokie Roberts, 51. The Wellesley-educated daughter of a New Orleans congressman mixes decent reporting lukewarm conventional wisdom on ABC News, NPR. Taking fire over accepting huge speech fees from corporations with Washington business.

James Truman, 38, leapfrogged over The New Yorker's Tina Brown to become chief agent in the British infiltration of American publishing. As editorial director for Conde Nast magazines-from Vogue to GQ to Vanity Fair-relentlessly hip Truman helps decide what the affluent read and wear.

Harvey Weinstein, 43, and brother, Bob, 40, are modern David O. Selznicks: movie distributors with enough moxie to sell art-house fare to the Raisinettes crowd. You don't just talk about their Miramax films like "Pulp Fiction" or "The Piano." You discuss them.

Shelby Steele, 49, was an unknown African-American English professor at San Jose State until 1990, when he published. "The Content of Our Character." That critique of affirmative action propelled Steele to the front rank of conservative thinkers, earned him a Hoover Institution fellowship and made him an easy target for liberals. His next book, "The End of Oppression," ponders the ironies in the legacy of the Great Society.

Kathy Halbreich, 46, maintains Minneapolis's prestigious Walker Art Center's reputation for avant-grade liveliness by striking a balance between political correctness (Jenny Holzer) and lurid fun (Jeff Koons). It's a far cry from Lake Wobegon, but the neighbors haven't complained.

Tim Russert, 45, NBC's chief networker, took the helm of "Meet the Press" in 1991, replaced its snoozy chat with what he calls "civilized aggressiveness" and made it the Beltway crowd's favorite Sunday-morning wake-up call.

Frank Rich, 46. So powerful-and vicious-as The New York Times's theater critic, producers called him "The Butcher of Broadway." Now he's the reigning lefty cultural elitist on the op-ed page: thumbs up for gays and rap, curtains for anyone to the right of Sheldon Hackney.

'Mo' Siegel, 45. What's the ex-hippie founder of Celestial Seasonings doing on a list of the fiber-powerful? After a brief sabbatical promoting environmental causes, he's back to pushing herbal brews. Too much corporate stress? Have a cup of Tummy Mint, Mo.

Bonnie Tempesta, 42, never dreamed that she was creating a cookie monster when she baked her first biscotti in '85. Today her La Tempesta bakery produces 300,000 twice-baked biscotti a day. Annual revenues approach $9 million. While Oreos may not be worried, '90s sophisticates woudn't be caught dead dunking anything else in their coffee.

Yvon Chouinard, 56. Outdoorsman, Buddhist and altruist, Chouinard is the founder of Patagonia, the rugged-clothing company. With 1 percent of its annual sales going to environmental causes, he's the P.C. outdoor clothier.

Danny Meyer, 37, feeds peach-fig chutney and quinoa-basmati pilaf to New York's elite at his tony Union Square Care and Gramercy Tavern. A cookbook- autographed copies available-brings his taste to the hinterlands.

Patty Stonesifer, 39, If you've been bragging about your new Pentium-chip system, but don't know a hard from a floppy, the eager head of Microsoft's prized consumer division wants to meet you. Her corporate mandate: developing software for the computer-insecure.

Ed Hagenlocker, 55, the Ford veep who brought us the Explorer, the hot vehicle of choice. Would the power-driven commute from Winnetka in anything else?

Peter Kann, 52. Yes, some overclassers actually started in the mad room--or in Kann's case, the journalistic equivalent. Once a newspaper copy boy, he flourished overseas and now chairs Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the moneyed-class bible, The Wall Street Journal.

Karen Elliott House, 47. A Pulitzer Prize winner for the Journal, she's the no-nonsense head of the business and editorial staffs of Dow Jones & Co,'s overseas operations. And married to Big Boss Kann.

Howard Schultz, 42. An epiphany at a Milan espresso bar prompted him to purchase Starbucks in 1987, then a tiny coffee-bean company. Today, he keeps the overclass awake.

Elliott Hillback, 51. The president of Integrated Genetics, he's a fearless pioneer in the field of gene-based diagnostics. He's leading the charge to develop a test for Down's syndrome u sing fetal cells in the mother's blood.

Michael Dell, 30. The wunderkind hit the computer big-time at a painfully early age. His company, Dell Computer, has been to hell and back: its sales tanked in '93 when it lost nearly $36 million. but was scrambling back to the top last year.

Raymond McGuire, 38. A managing director at Merrill Lynch. this softspoken M&A expert is a model of how to combine Wall Street success with roots in the community. Three degrees from Harvard--and he still works hard on Harlem's problems.

Dave Checketts, 39, CEO of Madison Square Garden. Checketts has been president of both the New York Knicks and the Utah Jazz. He attended Brigham Young University--where he lasted only one season on the basketball team. But now he controls the floor.

James Dimon, 39, the high-powered exec at Smith Barney and its parent, Traveler's Group, is best known for this spring's "Memorial Day Massacre" at the brokerage. Dimon flexed his muscles and axed traders who were placing risky orders.

Alex Kozinski, 45, was the youngest federal appeals judge when Reagan picked him in 1985. A Romanian immigrant and eccentric libertarian, he clerked for Warren Burger and is a chum of Anthony Kennedy's. Now he covets his own seat.

Dan Harmetz, 33, vice president at Fidelity Investments, the country's biggest mutual-fund company. A former junk-bond junkie, he's still done well in the conservative '90s. He even helped bail out Donald Trump.

Gun Denhart, 50, cofounder of Portland's Hanna Andersson Corp., the Swedish immigrant has been outfitting the toddlers of the well off in all-cotton clothing since 1984. The company is named after her grandmother. she says, because "my name [Gun] wasn't appropriate."

Tom Jones, 45, head of TIAA-CREF the world's largest private pension fund. In 1969 Jones led a 34-hour armed occupation of Cornell University's student-union building. Now he serves on the university's board of trustees.

Robert Rosenkranz, 52. The New York financier has left his mark on the leather cushions of numerous corporate boardrooms and. with big donations, on alma mater Yale. When he's not piloting his yellow Porsche, he's cutting deals and becoming a second-wave Henry Kravis.

Steven Brill, 44, ace reporter, had made a big success of American Lawyer and other legal publications when he dreamed up Court TV in 1991. Guys named Menendez, Kennedy Smith and Simpson will keep this abrasive Yalie in cigars for years.

Scott Cook 43, chairman and cofounder of Intuit, Inc. A Harvard MBA, Cook got his business legs selling Crisco for Procter & Gamble. Now the former hotshot Bain & Co. consultant uses his shortening-selling skills to peddle software.

Billy Payne, 47, quit his lucrative real-estate law practice to bring the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta. A former Georgia Bulldog linebacker who has already had two heart-by-pass operations, he bucked a skeptical Buckhead establishment while good-ole-boying the Summer Games into the biggest thing since Coca-Cola.

Robert L. Johnson, 49, founder and head of Black Entertainment TV. Founded in 1980, the network first broadcast only for three hours on Friday nights. It took Johnson, himself a legendary networker, 15 years, but now BET reaches 40 million homes around the clock.

Steven Rattner, 43, once covered business for The New York Times. But these days, the Times covers Rattner. A managing director at investment giant Lazard Freres, he was cool enough to go scuba diving while negotiating the Paramount takeover battle.

Brad Silverberg, 40. Also known as Mr. Windows, he's created some of the best-selling software in history. The next Bill Gates?

Raymond Ozzie, 39, founder of Lotus Notes, has Americans loading his software program into their computers faster than you can say "system crash." The boyishly handsome Ozzie's brain-child made IBM swoon, and brought Big Blue to the table to buy Lotus this spring.

Ted Leonsis, 39. He was a new-media guru in Florida when America Online bought his company. He hitched a ride on the Information Highway, and now Online has more than 3 million subscribers. He's helping all of us surf the Net.

John Shields, 63, chairman and CEO of Trader Joe's, the West Coast's popular specialty food-store chain. Joe's, which has served up discount gourmet food for 28 years, will take its cheese straws and flavored waters to a dozen stores on the East Coast next year.

Alvin (Buzzy) Krongard, 58, chairman of the board and CEO of Alex. Brown & Sons, the blue-blooded Baltimore-based investors. The Princeton-educated, tough-talkin' Krongard used to be a marine; now he's barkin' orders at investors.

Emily Woods, 34. Daughter of J. Crew founder Arthur Cinader, she's taken over as the company's chief designer. Woods conjures up family memories-- of swimming in Nantucket and skiing in New Mexico--to create her preppified fashions.

Kurt Schmoke, 45. this charismatic Rhodes scholar became the black mayor of Baltimore, home to Camden Yards, the overclass dream park. Schmoke may yet carry urban renewal beyond the shiny waterfront.

Al Gore, 47. Scion of Washington and Carthage, Tenn., his accent deepens the farther South he goes. But this high-tech maven boasts impeccable credentials-two grad degrees (plus a Harvard B.A.) and a best seller on how to save the environment.

George Stephanopoulos, 34, graduate from Columbia to Oxford, then from the War Room to the White House. Still the underclassman of the overclass, he's already perfected the art of having a say on everything and his fingertips on nothing.

Liz Robbins, 49, well-tanned lobbyist and FOB whose Hamptons political salon is in session when Congress isn't. Her clients-mostly city governments and liberal nonprofits-are desperate for help on the Hill nowadays, and she's still wired.

Ralph Reed, 33. Pat Robertson's boyish front man who has mastered the GOP with waspish political threats. As head of the Christian Coalition, he's the Holy Yuppie.

Earl Wylie Potter, 51, first went to New Mexico as a VISTA volunteer; he's now state Democratic chair. His law firm champions the little guy-and handles zoning for developers.

Frank Raines, 46. Harvard Rhodes scholar, former Wall Street adviser to inner-city mayors, he now shepherds home loans to the downtrodden as Fannie Mae's vice chair. The overclass's idea of a man of the people-and their dream mayor for D.C.

Elaine Chao, 42, pledged to bring "a new reverence for donor dollars" after becoming president of United Way-a feeling the overclass relates to deeply. Formerly a head of the Peace Corps under Bush, she's married to Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Mike Murphy, 33, dropped out of college to run his first media firm. At 29, he styled ads for Bush, then boosted Governors Whitman and Engler into the statehouse. He lost with Ollie North, but if new client Lamar Alexander does well in '96, he's the next Lee Atwater.

John Kerry, 51, hardworking senator from high-tech paleo-lib Massachusetts. Well-coiffed Vietnam War hero and Kennedy wanna-be married the widow of a dead colleague-ketchup heir John Heinz-and her $600 million.

Richard Holbrooke, 54, Democratic foreign-policy mandarin and onetime boyfriend of Diane Sawyer, now married to the former Mrs. Peter Jennings. His gray matter and tenacity redeem his reputation for shameless self-promotion.

William Kristol, 42, buffed his reputation by leaking cleverly to the press as Dan Quayle's chief of staff and, later, as an all-round GOP guru. His new right-wing magazine, The Standard, may be The New Republic of the Gingrich era.

Jamie Gorelick, 45, steered Janet Reno's confirmation so smoothly, the attorney general soon brought her on as her No. 2. a pragmatic former corporate lawyer, she may one day succeed to the top post.

Elizabeth McCaughey, 46, was an obscure if stylish wonk until she helped sink the Clinton health plan with her 1994 critique in The New Republic. It landed her the lieutenant governor's office in Albany-and a glossy spread in Vanity Fair.

Susan Estrich, 42. The first woman to run Harvard Law Review, the first to run a presidential campaign (Dukakis), she wrote a book on rape and now teaches gender-discrimination and criminal law at USC and hosts a radio talk show. She's who Hillary might have been.

Strobe Talbott, 49. Tapped for the Yale Corporation at 30, the former Time editor gracefully leapt from high-level journalism to a high-level State post. FOB from Oxford days would be secretary of state if Jesse helms didn't hate him.

William Weld, 50. Squash-playing Brahmin GOP governor exorcised Dukakis ghosts by cutting Taxachussets bloat. Smart and Kennedy-esque, but doomed by Christian right vendetta against him.

Bob Reich, 49, secretary of labor and charter FOB from Oxford days. Despite his early and influential vision of the underside of the overclass, his influence may be greater at Renaissance Weekend than in he job market.

Bill Daley, 46, upscale, polished brother and son of classically middle-class Chicago mayors. He swung the Illinois primary, then NAFTA for Clinton; too valuable at home to collect a Washington post before '96.

Timothy Wirth, 55, rivals Al Gore for coolest, greenest Harvard neolib. Preppy and photogenic, he chose not to run for re-election to his Colorado Senate seat in 1992 and took instead the impressively vague title of under secretary for global affairs at State.

Paul Krugman, 42, outspoken economist from Stanford, has become a major Clinton headache. A prolific writer, he calls the president's obsession with opening Japanese and other foreign markets to fix U.S. economic problems "baloney."

Jerry Reinsdorf, 59, one of the toughest owners in sports. With new standiums for his Chicago Bulls and White Sox, he's given the Second City the feel of a winner-even if Chicagoans hate giving Brooklyn-born Reindorf the credit.

Steven Pinker, 40, of MIT, developed the first comprehensive theory of language development in children. The irreverent linguist is shaking up neuroscience by arguing that syntax is a product of evolution and that "black English" follows rules just as grammatical as the Queen's.

Condoleezza Rice, 40, Bush's chief Soviet military adviser, is the first black, the first woman, and probably the first piano-playing Republican to be provost at Stanford-the No. 2 job. Moreover, Strobe Talbott.

Bert Vogelstein, 46, a hard-driving Howard Hughes Medical Institute geneticist, leads the elite Johns Hopkins team that discovered a gene for colon cancer, turning the worldwide search for cancer genes into the hottest field in medical research.

Elaine Pagels, 52, unassuming religion scholar at Priceton, makes tangled theology clear. In 1979, she took a ground-breaking look at early Christians whose beliefs didn't make it into the canon. Her current book, popular with the chattering class, probes the origins of Satan.

Len Elmore, 43, spent 10 years in the NBA before heading to Harvard Law School. In a sport where the players are mostly black but the Players-the dealmakers-are mostly white, he's changing the race equation as a rising black agent.

David Gelernter, 40, of Yale, invented a versatile new computer language and is brainstorming software for "smart" public transit (it comes to you when and when you want it). For his technotrailblazing, the iconoclastic scientist nearly lost his life to a 1993 package sent by the Unabomer.

Nicholas Negroponte, 51, uberwired director of the Media Lab at MIT and author of "Being Digital," led the team that invented multimedia and predicted that the nerdy Net would become the hippest thing since Praque.

J. Craig Venter, 48, was ostracized by scientists who were shocked-shocked-when, at NIH, he tried to patent strings of DNA. So the entrepreneurial biologist founded The Institute for Genomic Research in '92, and has confounded snipers by IDing moe than half of all human genes.

Grant Hill, 22, NBA rarity: an all-star with a courtly on-court manner. Dad was a NFL star who went to Yale. His mom roomed with Hillary Clinton at Wellesley. The Duke grad and Detroit Piston takes home $5 million in endorsements from Coke and Fila. And he's only a rookie.

The Most Rev. John H. Ricard, 55, though only an auxiliary bishop (of Baltimore), shapes church policy on social and political issues as head of its U.S. domestic-policy committee, making him Catholicism's most prominent African-American. A handsome, self-confident comer.

Michael Beschloss, 39, set aside his M.B.A. from Harvard to become the nation's leading presidential historian. The popular scholar with movie-star good looks is emerging as a semi-stuffy guru on the Washington media circuit.

Judith Rodin, 50, president of Penn and first woman head on an Ivy League school. Bonus points: the photogenic Columbia Ph.D.'s opus on eating disorders won her a spot on "Oprah Winfrey."

Andrew Wiles, 42, a publicity-shy Princeton mathematician, holed up in his house and proved the 358-year-old puzzle known as Fermat's Last Theorem this year, demonstrating that even math can be cool enough to land you on the front page of the Times.

Dick Darman, 52, thrilled the overclass with his busque style and daring, anti-chick suits and hair as Bush's budget director. But his smoke-and-mirrors gamesmanship alienated government drones and failed to reduce the deficit.

Robert McNamara, 79. Godfather to the overclass, the auto exec, secretary of defense and World Banker typifies the idea of failing upward. But still at all the right parties.

Benno Schmidt Jr., 53, was a preppy, brainy man for all academies: dean of Columbia Law, president of Yale, Then, pfft . . . he left the Ivy League to become CEO of Whittle's Edison Project (see right). Shoulda stayed in school, Benno.

Roger Altman, 49, former deputy at Treasury, had only to wait for Secretary Lloyd Bentsen to retire. Instead Whitewater caught the former Wall Street wonder boy in its headlights, and he was gone.

Chris Whittle, 47, Channel One's whiz kid had it all: a media empire worth roughly $200 million, wet-kiss press and big rep for vision. But shaky financing and bad follow-through took its toll. Now his once hot school project is sucking wind. But, hey, he still has the hair.