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Elitism in the “Real America” October 25, 2008

Posted by Kate Ryan in National Politics, Republicans.
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Let’s have a vocabulary lesson, shall we? 

What is an elitist?  Classically defined, an elitist is “a person who is or who believes himself or herself to be a member of an elite group” and the elite is defined as “the group or part of a group selected or regarded as the finest, best, most distinguished, most powerful, etc.” (Dictionary.com) 

Recently, Brian Williams of NBC asked Governor Sarah Palin during an interview what her definition of an elitist is.  She said that she defined an elitist as anyone who looks down on anyone else.  Williams said (paraphrased), “Then it has nothing to do with geography?”  She said no – but then – Senator McCain had to chime in, “I know where a lot of them live…in our nation’s capitol and New York City”.  He then went on to say that these are the people who want to tell “Americans what to think and do, instead of having Americans make their own decisions.” 

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about elitism and the “elites” from McCain-Palin in the last few days.  What strikes my funny bone in all this, is that neither John McCain or Sarah Palin see themselves – by their own definitions as well as the accepted ones – as an elitist.  Make no mistake, however, they are – and so are a great majority of their base Conservative supporters.

Oh, I’m not talking about the elitism of the scotch-swilling, country club, stereotype variety.  I’m talking about the newest, more insidious, and dangerous elitism.  It is the anti-intellectual elite that McCain and Palin are pandering to.  For the most part they are white, Christian, ex-urban or rural, less educated, and poorer than the traditional elitist.  

These anti-intellectual elites believe themselves to be members of an elite group (Christians, whites) and that their group is the finest and best group of all.  They tend to feel defensive and uncomfortable with people that are not members of their group (college graduates, racial and ethnic minorities, Muslims, and urban dwellers).  Because of their discomfort, they look down on the people outside their group (those not living in the REAL America) and try to tell them what to do and how to live their lives (anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-gun control).  Hence, we have just suffered through eight years of the President “you’d like to have a beer with”.

What makes the anti-intellectual elite dangerous is the intimation that if you are not one of them, then you are not a “real” American.  If you live in a city, un-American.  If your skin is brown or black, un-American.  If you are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or – God forbid – an atheist, un-American.   If you went to college, un-American.   By labeling themselves the only authentic Americans, the anti-intellectual elite find justifications for racism, homophobia, intolerance, and bigotry.

When former Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards talked about the “two Americas”, I assumed he was talking about the ever-widening gap between the very rich and the ever-shrinking middle class, the working class, and the impoverished class.  Those Americans are growing in number, while the people at the very top are growing richer.  This concept of two Americas is one that truly resonated with me.  The inequality is staggering – this country has not seen such a gulf since the Gilded Age.  But both these Americas are very REAL.

Of course, Senator Edwards was roundly criticized for “promoting class warfare.”  “There is only ONE America,” the right howled.  “It inflammatory and unpatriotic to suggest otherwise.”

Really?

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