Part of the Republican playbook, since 1968, and more explicitly since 1988, has been that Democrats are elitist. They do not mean "elite" in the socio-economic sphere, because clearly the Republicans have them beat there. They mean that Democrats believe they are intellectually and morally superior to the run-of-the-mill folks who didn't go to graduate school, don't know who Jacques Derrida or Gilles Deleuze are, and just try to live their lives day-to-day as best they can. They are speaking, in other words, of cultural elitism.
Let's face it. In the 1970's, liberals gave them plenty of ammunition. There are few more smug, self-satisfied people than ERA-button-wearing, consciousness-raising 1970's liberals. Earnest, filled with a sense of their own superior wisdom and knowledge, they were annoying and, in the end, helped destroy the liberal coalition. I realize this is a minority view, and might tick off some of my fellow liberals.
It is also true.
The events of the 1960's created a sense of self-righteousness on a number of social and cultural issues, be they race, class, gender, or the content of popular art and its relationship to fine art that I find difficult to defend. I believe I am far more radical than any of the limousine liberals who partied with Fidel Castro during his visit to the UN in the late-1970's, or had cocktail parties with Black Panthers in the late 1960's because I find Castro an abhorrent figure deserving of nothing more than a trial before the ICC, and I can't imagine what I would have to talk about with Bobby Seale other than agreeing that organized community action is a good thing.
Yet, this is 2008, not 1968. American liberals are not the smug superior folks we once were. The events of the past eight years, I believe, have demonstrated that there might be some need for simple competence in public administration, and this requires a certain amount of education and a serious-mindedness that comes with being intelligent and insightful. Since the policies of the Republican Party have clearly benefited the most wealthy in America, the issue of elitism has shifted back to far more honest territory - referring to those who hold the reins of power rather than who has read the most books.
Let's face it. Barack Obama is among the elite in this country. So is John McCain. Neither one is a NASCAR kind of guy, and neither one should pretend he is. To give Obama credit, he doesn't pretend to be. Yet, McCain's - and the entire Republican establishment's - attempt to paint Obama as some kind of "elitist" because he eats arugula is really kind of silly. It shows they have nothing left. They have no ideas, no plan, no serious policy initiatives. They know nothing other than Rovian politics of divide and conquer to get that 50 percent-plus-one-vote majority, then declare a mandate to govern as if they won a landslide.
I do not believe it will work. For one thing, their attempts are being vivisected the moment they appear. For another, they are transparent and stupid, pale imitations of the Willie Horton ads of yesteryear. Finally, the times being what they are, and Republicans clearly demonstrating they lack the ability to govern (I do not buy the argument that this is all some ploy on the part of anti-government types to show how bad government administration is; I just think they are grossly incompetent), I think Obama is running a smart campaign by not addressing Senator McCain all that much, except to point out that he is a flailing, desperate old man whose policies are no different than the past eight years of abject failure we have known. Since Obama also points out that McCain's campaign ads are full of lies, this is all to the good, learning a lesson from John Kerry's delay in dealing with the Swift Boat nonsense of four years ago.
We want our Presidents to be part of the elite. George Washington was. Franklin Roosevelt was. Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Thomas Jefferson, even Abraham Lincoln - they were all part of the elite. Harry Truman may not have been as much as the rest, but since he was unpopular and had an Administration filled with corrupt underlings whom he tolerated for purely partisan reasons (the resurrection of Truman's reputation is in part a Republican strategy to rewrite history; Truman, Carter, and Bush are the three least popular Presidents in modern American history), I do not see where elevating him to iconic status helps all that much. Warren Harding was a regular guy sitting around the White House playing poker with his buddies while they all violated the Volstead Act. Meanwhile, his Interior Department managed some cozy deals that became known as the Teapot Dome scandal that was every bit as big and illegal as Watergate and the entire eight years of the Bush Administration. When you elect regular folks to office, you tend to get inefficiency and corruption.
All this discussion of who is an elitist because of diet, haircuts, or the price of loafers is really silly. I no more like the nonsense when it's tossed at John McCain than when it's tossed at John Edwards or Barack Obama because it really carries the topic forward, rather than dismissing it as lacking any relevance whatsoever.
Barack Obama and John McCain. Two elites running for President. That's the reality. Everything else is just a lot of blue smoke and mirrors.