Elitism or Elite? Quelle Difference!

As a kid, I aspired to part of some group labelled elite.  Part of that is because you really do–at some point–want to sit at the kewl kids lunch table.  The other is because when you hear things like “elite team” of marines or “elite” group of astronauts, you think wow, to be THAT outstanding must be something!  I’ve always aspired to achieve.  That type of elite should not be spit out of one’s mouth like we’re talking about the Bourbon aristocracy in revolutionary France.

Elitism, however, is a different critter.  That implies that just because you think you’re good at something or you manage to wind up at the kewl kid’s table, every one else is obviously inferior. You get your ‘Mean Girls’ act on.  That’s the true dirty word and it popped up again as a headline today at the NYT from Peter Baker.  That would be ‘ Elitism: The Charge That Obama Can’t Shake’.  Time and again we do hear reports that POTUS may be thinking us little folks just don’t get him and if he just articulates that POTUS knows best, we will  suddenly throng to the polls on Tuesday and pull the Democratic Lever.

In the Boston-area home of a wealthy hospital executive one Saturday evening this month, President Obama departed from his usual campaign stump speech and offered an explanation as to why Democrats were seemingly doing so poorly this election season. Voters, he said, just aren’t thinking straight.

“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,” he told a roomful of doctors who chipped in at least $15,200 each to Democratic coffers. “And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be.”

The notion that voters would reject Democrats only because they don’t understand the facts prompted a round of recriminations — “Obama the snob,” read the headline on a Washington Post column by Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush — and fueled the underlying argument of the campaign that ends Tuesday. For all the discussion of health care and spending and jobs, at the core of the nation’s debate this fall has been the battle of elitism.

Well, I would expect that charge to come from a Dubya speech writer.  Afterall, the Republicans have made a national sport of making fun of ‘cultural’ elites, ‘hollywood’ elites, and ‘ivory tower’ elites.  Hey, what happened to aspiring to being more than you can be?  Let’s not confuse the talented  and bright in our society with the folks that peer down their noses and go ‘tut, tut’.  They’re two distinct groups.

We need more innovators and elites to move the country forward.  We do no need lectures from effete snobs, however.  How can we tell the difference before they land in office and better yet, how do we get every one to make a distinction between out right snobbery and the pursuit of a higher state of existence?  How can we stop every one from hijacking lexicon?

That being said, Obama does not project any kind of empathy along the lines of  “I feel your pain” or speaking out to even a “silent majority”.  Evidently, even Democratic strategists are discussing the tin ear issue.  But c’mon, how touchy feeling does Mitch McConnell strike you?  Would you want to share a lunch table with that guy?

“The elitism argument is kind of a false one because the president talks about people’s economic interests and middle-class families,” said Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist who advises Mr. Obama. “And those who are supporting Republican candidates right now — because they think they’ll look out for their interests — are going to be very surprised when they find out what the corporate sponsorship of that party is buying.”

But Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist, said Mr. Obama had not connected with popular discontent. “A lot of people have never been to Washington or New York, and they feel people there are so out of touch,” he said. “When you’re unemployed and you’re sitting in your living room and you hear the president say, ‘You don’t understand what the problems really are — you’re just scared,’ that makes people really, really angry.”

For a party of bankers, the Republicans sure have the ability to boil the words down to a populist message these days.   The Democrats are the ones  that come off as supremely out of touch.   I still remember the old George Bush looking flummoxed by the grocery store experience.  How silver spoon Dubya turned into a comic book rancher is still a mystery to me.  But, this new breed of Democratic progressives have lost the common touch, the common message, and the search for the common good.  No doubt about it.  Obama is symptomatic of that.  Funny how they all think it’s just the inability to market themselves in the most resonant way rather than looking at the sincerity of their messages.  It’s difficult to fake sincerity.  People with common sense can smell it a mile away.

And, I think at the heart of it all is that most of the people in the beltway right now have no idea what it means to be middle class these days.  It’s like American is searching for ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ and political consultants are still watching ‘Wag the Dog’.  Why can’t we get some combination of common sense Harry Truman and definitely elite FDR who truly set forward an agenda to expand the American Dream to every one?

What is wrong with our political process that it seems to create the very thing we love to hate?  Does reaching the membership in a society of elites automatically lead one to be an elitist?  If so, that doesn’t say much for the character-building nature of striving to reach the top of one’s field of endeavor; whatever it may be.

81 Comments on “Elitism or Elite? Quelle Difference!”

  1. dakinikat says:

    Speaking of one of the nation’s elites in a good sense, Ted Sorenson has died.

    Theodore Sorensen, who helped craft some of the most quoted and analyzed speeches in American history as a top adviser to President John F. Kennedy, has died. He was 82.

    Sorensen had suffered a stroke earlier this month. His death was confirmed today by Laurie Morris, a special assistant at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in New York.

    One of the last surviving members of Kennedy’s inner circle, Sorensen served as senior adviser and special counsel, briefing the president and offering advice on everything from electoral politics to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  2. Here’s my Sunday roundup — I touched on the Baker piece on Elitism too


    • dakinikat says:

      Oh, great, I’ll go take a look. At at the university on a functional computer at the moment praying for FEDEX to deliver the new hard drive on Monday.

    • dakinikat says:

      okay, should I read MoDo based on that? Eeps, no eye bleach here, so you better not be kidding me!!!

      • it’s readable I think… I was only minimally rolling my eyes at some points because it’s so typical, MoDo is another one who cheerled O at various points but now finds it beneficial to come down on him so scathingly. I almost (not quite) feel bad for O… with sycophants like that, who needs Faux News… 😉 MoDo writes as if she didn’t do anything to enable him. But, we’ll always have that problem with most people in the corporate media, since they all backed him.

  3. janicen says:

    Hi all! Just got home from the Rally to Restore Sanity, and I haven’t had the chance to read through all the posts. Quite a few of them! Speaking of elitists, I saw quite a few of them over the weekend. So many of them didn’t get what the rally was about, they assumed that it must be about them and their agenda. The rally was just the opposite and Stewart tried very hard to make the point that we needed to stop thinking we were better or smarter than each other and quit thinking we are better citizens or patriots and find a way to work together to get things done and, above all, hold our leaders and the press accountable. Interesting how the Obots and elitists think they are so very brilliant, and yet the purpose of the rally went right over their heads! Anyway, back to reading, in between passing out candy. Happy Halloween!

    • dakinikat says:

      I watched Fareed Z and his restoring the American Dream program. His big bottom line was that we needed to focus on what’s good for all of American. It was an interesting show.

      And eat some candy for me!!!

  4. AliceP. says:

    “Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,”

    This statement is just breathtaking. “the facts and science argument” I must have missed that one. There’s a word salad going on here that is intended to confuse people on purpose. The manipulation and use of implied language is also stunning. I’m not sure whether they really get that people know when they are being manipulated and that is where a lot of the anger is coming from. Maybe they do and just don’t care since it’s all about image and if you can get your detractors to look like uninformed fools to the masses then maybe in this upside down world that’s all that matters.

    Shameful and terribly bad for the country. I think Obama knows exactly why people are so upset these days but, the larger issue to him is how it “looks” So these put down faux arguments are justified to him somehow.

    Man, I miss the real democrats. You know the ones who wouldn’t have told us in a million years that the real reason we are upset is because we all have panic disorder and aren’t thinking clearly.

    • dakinikat says:

      Yup, I like the ones that say things like, we need more jobs, the rich people don’t need to be getting THIS much richer, and it’s time to quit spending our hard earned cash policing the rest of the world and rebuild America!

      Then they do that rather than bail out their financial market buddies.

    • Woman Voter says:

      The elite also wanted to take out some progressive women and I and others challenged them on that, I won’t name them here but it was interesting to see how they had an agenda and it didn’t include those that had a history with the working people, but rather those that think of themselves as ‘elite’.

      I left Salon after being hassled day in and day out, but I think we made out point and some of the hit videos have since disappeared. I have to figure out a way to save them to review for the future.

      Funny that no candidate is talking about the WARS and the costs of the WARS and the BACK DOOR DRAFT (reserves serving 2 and 3 and even 4 tours). 😦

    • purplefinn says:

      More from the Gerson article underlines your point.

      This is not just a political problem; it is a governing challenge. There is fear out there in America — not because of the lizard brain but because of objective economic conditions. And a reactionary populism can be disturbing when it targets minorities, immigrants and intellectuals. But intellectual disdain among elites feeds this destructive populism rather than directing or defusing it. Obama is helping to cause what he criticizes.

      • dakinikat says:

        Yup. Very germane.

      • Sima says:

        Excellent point. So we need a constructive populism instead of what we are getting. I think the President and his staff could really be instrumental in creating such, if they tried. But they don’t even seem to recognize that such work is needed. Or if they do, they don’t care.

  5. Woman Voter says:

    Where are all the anti-War groups? Where are the pre-election WAR vigils?

    • LJSNAustin says:

      Good question, WomanVoter! I hadn’t thought about it, but you are absolutely correct.

    • Zaladonis says:

      Everything changed once Obama was elected.

      Democrats aren’t outraged about war anymore. Or Gitmo — remember when that was important to Democrats? Or wiretapping or a President claiming the power to assassinate citizens without due process.

      Some groups have silenced themselves out of allegience to Dear Leader. Some have been bullied into silence. I just de-friended an old friend off Facebook – Obots are the biggest bullies around and seriously I’m just fed up with it. Even if I don’t let them bully me they don’t stop and it’s just annoying until it becomes stressful.

      Some Democrats have become people I don’t enjoy knowing any more.

    • Sima says:

      We still have some of them around here (west of Seattle) but they have sure lessened in presence. Used to be I could find groups on meetup to attend, haven’t been able to do that lately either.

      Maybe that’ll be one of my focii for the next couple years. Anti-war protesting.

      • NWLuna says:

        Sima, I’m in the area and would be happy to do some anti-war protesting too.

        • Sima says:

          There’s a gentleman that stands out with a big sign on one of the weekdays in Kingston, right on the main highway. I will stop next time I see him and see if he wants companionship, or to co-ordinate with other areas. I’m going to email the protest group that was going back in 2002-2003 and see if they are still game. I bet many of them aren’t, but you never know.

          • NWLuna says:

            I’m in the West Seattle area. Thinking of signs to make.
            “Closed Gitmo yet?”
            “50,000 troops (crossout) advisors still in Iraq”

            Brain not working too well tonight; I’m supposed to be finishing up a paper for school.

          • Sima says:

            How’s about ‘43,000 US casualties: and we are still at war?’.

            That total is for both Iraq and Afghanistan and is only US casualties, dead and wounded.

    • Zaladonis says:

      Those are terrific.

      I love when, aside from age, the camera catches an expression or posture and she looks exactly the same as she did 40 years ago.

    • NWLuna says:

      Thanks for the link. What a leader! Especially contrasted with Oblabla’s “they just don’t understand facts and science” BS.


  6. AliceP. says:

    “Forgotten Wars, Forgotten Soldiers” I just watched “Winter Soldier” again two days ago. The original panel on Vietnam, not the more recent one on Iraq. I cannot seem to find that inquiry anywhere right now. However, it struck me that if we had even half as open a media as we did back then people would “get it” and stop allowing our government so much of a pass on Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The rates of PTSD and suicide among this group of soldiers is staggering yet few know that. More Iraq vets are dying from suicide than we have lost IN Iraq. WHY is helping them not a priority or the great need common knowledge?

    Meanwhile back at the ranch Michelle Bachman is calling Obama a socialist, and the class war continues. It’s the perfect coup. They’ve managed to get all the middle class at each others throats while pretending to fight with one another in the upper echelons.

  7. Zaladonis says:

    “Future historians studying the decline and fall of America will mark this as the time the tide began to turn – toward a mean-spirited mediocrity in place of a noble beacon.” –Theodore Sorenson, 2004

    • Sima says:

      Wow, that about sums it up, doesn’t it? ‘Mean-spirited mediocrity.’ I am going to have to examine myself and make sure I’m not playing into that somehow, as best as I am able. Then, I think I’ll ask those nearest to me to do the same thing.

      A few days ago a young couple came to the farm to pick up her mother’s farm share. I guess her mother had promised it to her. But her mother had also promised it to a friend and the friend got here first. The young lady’s eyes welled with tears, all over a grocery bag’s worth of vegetables. She looked panicked, as did her young fellow. I wonder if the mother knew that was going to be most of their food for the week? Well, I gave them a bag of vegetables. It felt really good to do so. I need to remember that feeling, and make sure we give out a bag or two a week.

      • HT says:

        Sima, from an atheist, bless you for your compassion.

        • Sima says:

          I say ‘bless you’ all the time and I’m an atheist too! Thank you :).

          The episode disturbed me because I think the mother really doesn’t realize how the daughter is doing. It’s probably a mother-daughter generational thing, daughter too proud to tell her, or whatever.

          It also disturbed because it really was just a bag of vegetables. We charge 20$ a week for it. And yes, it’s enough to feed two comfortably for 4 or so days, and feed as side dishes for more than a week, but still, it’s not tons. And if that little of an amount makes a difference… wow, there are people in a world of hurt out there right now.

          • HT says:

            Yes, there is a world of hurt out there, and it breaks my heart. the food banks are begging for help because their client base has increased so much in the last month.
            Yes, Kat, showers of blessing do come from all areas – Sima’s shower is one and hopefully there are thunderstorms of others out there.

        • dakinikat says:

          I think showers of blessings come from all kinds of things personally.

      • Pips says:

        Some time, actually months, ago, I watched a piece on Swedish television about soup kitchens in the US and I was literally shocked. Shocked, that there was so many! The enormity of the need. And shocked that I heard so little about it in US news. And not much in the blogosphere either, sad to say!

        What a beatiful gesture from you Sima – and I agree, it really feels good to be able to help.

  8. jillforhill says:

    Here is the story to the pictures. I can not believe she is the first SOS to go there,I think that is kind of sad no other SOS has gone before her.

    SIEM REAP, Cambodia – Pledging to do more to help end the scourge of sexual slavery, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited a rescue and rehabilitation center for child prostitutes in northern Cambodia on Sunday.
    Before touring the famed 12th century Angkor Wat temple complex, Clinton met with a group of about 50 victims of human trafficking at the U.S.-funded facility in Siem Reap and promised them continued American support.
    “I am so proud of you,” she told the girls and young women, most of whom are between 17 and 23. They receive an education and vocational training that includes weaving and sewing lessons.
    “You motivate me,” she said.
    Clinton listened as one young woman, Vann Sina, recounted her story of being abducted at 13 and forced to have sex with 20 to 30 men a day for more than two years before being rescued from a brothel.
    “I wanted to come here today to see you for myself,” Clinton said.
    Clinton was the first sitting secretary of state to visit Angkor.

    Link for above:

    PS-my phone does not show a reply button so I have to start a new comment when I post.

    • dakinikat says:

      oprah featured a charity that trains rescued girls. I bought presents last year from them for my girl’s and sister’s bdays

    • Woman Voter says:

      Heoroes of HIV – The Activist (This one is inspirational too and a model for girls and young women who suffered from Human Trafficking ‘slavery’) Good to hear Hillary is still working to bring light to the plight of women suffering around the globe.

  9. OMG is anyone else watching Wolf Blitzer right now? Thier graphics/set is really out of control ridiculous as usual. They had some really weird thing green-screened of the Capitol in front of Wolf. So stoopid.

  10. HT says:

    Wonk, I never watch television, but what you are describing is why I never watch television.

  11. jillforhill says:

    Dakinikat,do you have a link for that charity?

    • dakinikat says:

      Yes.. On my dead hard drive… I can try to google it here on the blackberry. Give me a minute.

        • NWLuna says:

          Thanks; I went to the site:

          Born to a tribal minority family in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia, Somaly Mam began life in extreme poverty. …. Somaly was sold into sexual slavery by a man who posed as her grandfather. …. Somaly heroically escaped her captors and set about building a new life for herself. She vowed never to forget those left behind and has since dedicated her life to saving victims and empowering survivors.

          In 1996, Somaly established a Cambodian non-governmental organization called AFESIP (Agir Pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire). Under Somaly’s leadership, AFESIP employs a holistic approach that ensures victims not only escape their plight, but have the emotional and economic strength to face the future with hope. With the launch of The Somaly Mam Foundation in 2007, Somaly has established a funding vehicle to support anti-trafficking organizations and to provide victims and survivors with a platform from which their voices can be heard around the world.


          • Sima says:

            Thanks for the link. I wonder why people like her never get nominated for the Nobel, or do they? Or is rescuing women and children just not that big of a deal? Hard not to feel a bit ‘bitter’.

          • dakinikat says:

            I think that’s one of the Foundations Laura Bush has been supporting also.

  12. HT says:

    a non sequiter here, but just an observation. As a chronic lurker, I’ve seen people come and go. The last three days I’ve seen some olden days folks turn up. It’s great to see people resurface. Good times – hope it continues.

  13. jillforhill says:


    I am watching Rachel Maddow,she is really good when not talking about obama. The one race I am looking foward to is the one in Alaska. I hope McAdams wins,he has received no pac money,has not ran a negative ad,his ads have been about the national and Alaska issues. Miller and Lisa have received a lot of money from outside sources and McAdams just got to a million dollars last week.

  14. affinis says:

    I remember arguing with a friend of mine from the Bay Area that the wealthy tended to be Republican, and she argued that in her experience (she’d lived near Harvard, then in highly educated university and information technology enclaves on the west coast), they tended to be Democrats. I think that argument reflected a huge political shift – though wealth tended to strongly correlate in the past with being Republican (and still does in certain geographic areas – e.g. West Virginia), that correlation has been breaking down, especially for those in careers dealing with information.
    An interesting example of the consequences can be seen on this graph posted by Lambert

    (taken from the following paper:
    http://www.democ.uci.edu/research/conferences/gradconf2010/Hayes_Congressional%20Responsiveness%20in%20an%20Era%20of%20Inequality.4.17.10.pdf )

    Another friend of mine has coined the term “shinies” to refer to the breed of “New Democrats”.
    Sam Smith over at prorev (yes, he can display CDS, but he’s right about a lot of stuff) has a good piece up about this.
    “Most of all, however, Obama represented a triumph of a generation of liberals dramatically different from their predecessors, most markedly in their general indifference to issues of economic as well as ethnic equality.
    This heavily professional liberal class never once – in the manner of their predecessors of the New Deal and Great Society – took the lead in pressing for economic reforms. It wasn’t that they opposed them; they just never seemed to occur to them.
    They, after all, had risen in status even as much of the rest of the country was slipping. Over a quarter of a century passed and the best the liberal Democrats could come up with was to slash welfare and raise the age for Social Security.”

    Another blog entry that’s worth reading that rather relates to this topic, but in a different context (Thailand), can be found here: http://brontecapital.blogspot.com/2010/05/people-like-me-in-thailand.html

    I think another factor that propels the elitism label in the particular case of Obama is his narcissism. People recognize the arrogance and inauthenticity (and as you note, the apparent lack of empathy) and react badly. (The election of Obama probably partly reflects a phenomenon that various studies have found – leaderless groups tend to select their most narcissistic members as leaders – here’s one such study: http://psp.sagepub.com/content/34/12/1663.abstract ). One Obama acolyte who wrote some interesting observations about Obama’s apparent lack of empathy was Philip Weiss (in an April 2008 piece). Though on the one hand he claimed “Barack Obama is our Jesus, he’s going to save America.” he also noted “My own sense is that other individuals don’t fully register emotionally in Obama’s consciousness, they’re expendable, he’s arrogant, lacks empathy.”

    • Dee says:

      “leaderless groups tend to select their most narcissistic members as leaders”

      We are doomed!

    • Sima says:

      It was, and is, such a huge jump to get from B. Obama, mild-mannered narcissist and political glad-hander to Jesus, saviour of America. How the heck do they do it and still remain sane? I really admire, adore, whatever, Hillary, and I sure don’t think of her as Jesus, saviour of America.

      Why were people so eager to fall for this crap? Is my generation and younger (mind, I’m almost 50) really that shallow and vapid?

      • Pilgrim says:

        I think it was pretty misguided of Mr. O and his people to allow expectations to soar to such stratospheric heights. It was a recipe for a serious crash ala Icarus.

        That was something Geo W. Bush was smart about. Always kept expectations low, so as to surprise with better-than-expected results — in votes, not policy.

        • dakinikat says:

          There’s so much wisdom in that its hard to know where to start.

        • Branjor says:

          However, it got him elected. Maybe all the Christian preaching about Jesus, the saviour, which has been so prominent in American culture since the days of Reagan, has predisposed/brainwashed even many liberals into embracing a “Messiah” for president. They didn’t think much about what would happen *after* he was elected and would be faced with the tough job of governing, though. Very shortsighted of them.

    • Dee says:

      “liberals dramatically different from their predecessors, most markedly in their general indifference to issues of economic as well as ethnic equality”

      Why then are they called liberals?

  15. lanikai says:

    Lurker here, glad you didn’t just take your ball and go home. You are always a good read. I would have missed you.

  16. jh says:

    here’s a musical gilbert & sullivan spoof to lighten things:

    • dakinikat says:

      We did g&s in high school … I still can sing about four of them

      • jh says:

        we did g&d in HS too, sooooo long ago. I love everything about g&s, the music & theater & costumes, etc.

        • dakinikat says:

          Let me go check. I know one was in pending and I let it out.

          • dakinikat says:

            the only one I could find was one from affinis that had multiple links. I did let one out of yours earlier … is it in an earlier thread? Other than that, there’s nothing now in spam or the moderation que. I gave the ability to pull folks out of spam or moderation to a few others so hopefully it won’t take them long to get released. There’s no blocks on anything at the moment so other than first posts, things should come through.

  17. affinis says:

    Hi Dakinikat,
    I added a long comment a couple hours ago. Seems not to have posted. When I’ve added comments previously, I’ve seen the comment in my browser along with an awaiting moderation tag, but didn’t see that this time. Was my recent comment just way tooo loooong, or did it get caught in a spam filter?

  18. Dee says:

    DC Metro riders set new record on Saturday (for a Saturday)

    “Whether it served any of those riders very well is different question. The demand for public transit to attend the Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear — hosted by Comedy Central duo Stewart and Colbert — exceeded supply. Metro customers suffered long waits at various Metro stations throughout the city.

    Several even suffered injuries.”


    Crowd estimates = 215,000
    Beck thingie = 87,000

  19. Woman Voter says:

    Rachel Maddow is a kitty cat, while interviewing bla, blah …what is his name…Eugene Robinson.

    • Dee says:

      eugene puts me to sleep

      • Woman Voter says:

        Is he the pundit that was all in a flutter about a German monument behind Obama looking like, ahemmm,…(you remember it was Obama and his people that picked what he would stand in front of)…is that him???

        • Dee says:

          Don’t remember that – I usually turn him off because it is embarrassing to watch him get all giggly over Obama. Keith has him on all the time to fluff Obama. Started during the primary.

          • dakinikat says:

            I was reading ko was dissing the. Rally and Stewart Today. He’s such a small man.

          • Dee says:

            KO tweeted yesterday right after it was over. He was upset about cable talkings heads being lumped together – O’Riley and Beck same as KO and Ed Shultz. (No mention by Jon of Maddow or Tweety.)

            KO’s feelings were hurt. He thought until yesterday he was one of the cool guys and Jon liked him. too bad

        • Pips says:

          WV, Obama spoke in front of the Siegessäule (Victory Column) in Berlin, as his first choise Brandenburger Tor had been denied him. Good on Angela Merkel to put her foot down!

          On their plans, after the turn down, Bill Burton said (ahem, wasn’t Obama like … a guest in Germany? And not even the officiel Dem. candidate yet!):

          “[Obama] has considered several sites for a possible speech, and he will choose one that makes the most sense for him and his German hosts.”