Tuesday, November 09, 2004


I am not an "elitist"

Yes, I think some of the people who voted for Bush are uninformed and voting against their best interests. Yes, I think some fundamentalist Christians are bigoted and stupid. Yes, I think there are vast numbers of Americans who are ignorant, insular, scared of the world and overcompensating with chauvinism. Yes, I am an intellectual, knowledgeable about history, science, politics, sociology, art, music, literature and other sophisticated, arcane, impenetrable fields of study.

But none of that makes me an "elitist."

To be honest, I don't know what that word means. Other than as a convenient smear to label one's opponents with, when one is trying to convince middle America that you are "one of them."

But figure it out. To be an "elitist," one must either be a member of an "elite" or believe that the "elite," whatever it is, is superior to everyone else and that therefore that "elite" should rule.

Well, who does that really describe, now? Who is the pampered son of a former president, connected since birth to all kinds of powerful and wealthy people, who was shielded from service in Vietnam by friends of his father, who was given all kinds of shortcuts to business success by friends of his father, who was selected president by Supreme Court justices appointed either by his father or by the president for whom his father was vice president, whose own vice president is a wealthy former corporate CEO with ties to his former company, and who primarily hobnobs with oil company executives and other extremely wealthy people who never ever are inconvenienced by contact with people out of the boss class except for servants? (Sorry for the long sentence.)

If anyone is an "elitist," it is George W. Bush. It is Richard Cheney. It is Grover Norquist and Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie and Karen Hughes and Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert and Bill Frist and all the other senior Republicans.

Yes, we won't be holding any benefits for John Kerry or John Edwards. Or any of the senior Democratic leaders. But Edwards made his money fighting for injured Americans in court. Kerry has, as a liberal Democrat, fought for ordinary Americans.

Neither party is truly a "party of the people," whatever that means. It's hard for a poor person to run for office these days. Even if they could find the money, the fact that they are poor would disqualify them as not being successful enough to be trustworthy. Even the middle class is mostly excluded from direct access to power.

In any case, the word "elitist" is thrown around so much, often with explosive effect, that it means absolutely nothing. If you are a northeastern or Pacific coast liberal with any higher learning at all and with any tastes that are not 100% lowbrow, you can be smeared as an "elitist," and that is supposed to immediately end the conversation. "Elitists" can't understand "real" Americans. We have no morals, no "values." We believe in mandatory abortion and gay marriage, we want to ban the Bible, we think guns are worse than multiple body piercings and Christianity worse than Nazism. We are the quintessence of evil.

Well, pardon me, but that caricature contains more bullshit than all the meadows in the Midwest. Yes, it's true, I live in New Jersey. I have graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and Princeton. I love ballet and opera and classical music and movies that don't have a roman numeral in their title. I have never voted for a Republican presidential candidate. I never go to church. I have lived overseas. I speak several foreign languages. I read.

And so what? I also love baseball, ice hockey, soccer, football, and college basketball. I watch more TV than I should. Just because I watch PBS and Bravo does not mean I don't also watch ESPN and SpikeTV.

And so what if I don't go to church? (Neither does George W. Bush, either, by the way, except when he's out campaigning. Just as he only "clears brush" on his ranch when there are cameras around. Just as he only bought that "ranch" in 1999 as a prop for his presidential campaign.) Guess what - I go to synagogue every week (actually, I go almost every day).

And even if I didn't - how does that make me an out-of-touch "elitist"? See, the real definition of an "elitist" is not just one who thinks only the elite should rule, but who also thinks that only the elite can join the elite. And no Democrat thinks that. We don't want to restrict access to higher education - we want to expand it. We don't want to promise vouchers as a way to destroy public education - we want to fix public education. We want more money for the arts so that everyone can enjoy them, not just those who can afford to join the local symphony or opera.

Everybody doesn't watch PBS - but everybody can - as long as there is a PBS. Everybody doesn't understand genetics or physics - but everybody could - if we encouraged them to expand their minds instead of cynically exploiting their ignorance. A lot of the pundits who sneered at Kerry for supposedly trying to appeal to "good ol' boys" by reportedly saying "Who among us doesn't like NASCAR" (which he did not actually say) would not themselves ever be caught dead within a mile of a stock car race.

Yes, I believe in evolution. (Actually, it does not matter what I "believe" in, since to a scientist the word "believe" has little if any meaning. Evolution happened, whether you believe in it or not.) Sorry if that offends any fundamentalist Christians out there, but your inability to go beyond the most simple possible interpretation of the Bible is your problem not mine. Since G-d has no physical form, it is not possible for Him to have created us in His physical image. Therefore, He must have created us in His moral image. So it is perfectly possible for us to evolve physically.

In any case, both major political parties are run entirely by the nation's elites. The Democratic Party, however, is far more open to using its power to help the people of the country, to raise them up, to lower a ladder up which they can climb; while the Republican Party is far more interested in using its power to help the corporate titans and other members of the elite retain and even increase their own wealth, influence and power, to pull the ladder up once the people they represent have climbed it and gotten theirs. But the Republicans pander to the people they are actually fleecing - and, so far at least, have gotten away with it. But that does not make Democrats the party of the elites and Republicans the party of the people. It just makes Republicans the party of the hypocrites and thieves.

In any case, merely being from the northeast, merely having tastes other than NASCAR and pro wrestling, merely being something other than a fundamentalist Christian - none of that makes me an elitist. I think of myself as intelligent, sophisticated, intellectual - but anyone who truly wants to be those things can become those things. It takes work, but it is not closed off. And any "elite" that is not closed off is anything other than an elite.

Yes, people who know things should make decisions about them. But anyone who really wants to can learn about the issues. In a democratic republic, we should be encouraging the democracy of study, of learning, of competence. The existence of the Internet, especially, gives us the greatest opportunity in human history to date to extend the discussion, to invite more and more people to the table. It isn't who you are that makes you an "elitist" - it's what you want and believe other people can become that makes you a true democrat. And a true Democrat.
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