Elitism or Elite? Quelle Difference!Posted: October 31, 2010
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.