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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

“Elitism” Through the Looking-Glass

So here’s something to look for in the vast conservative over-reaction to Barack Obama’s comments about the economic roots of “bitterness” and cultural reaction among certain rural and small-town voters.
If you accept (as I certainly do) that economic and non-economic voter concerns are generally legitimate, then there’s more than one way to express elitist, condescending attitudes.
One way is to dismiss non-economic concerns. But the other way is to dismiss economic concerns. And that’s what many conservative pundits and politicians do every single day, by:
(1) arguing that the highly negative feelings Americans have towards the current state of the U.S. economy are delusional or even wimpish, given relative sanguine employment and inflation statistics; (2) suggesting that grievances against economic globalization or trade agreements reflect the views of “losers” who can’t or won’t adjust to economic “dynamism” and who selfishly wish to deny their fellow-citizens the benefits of a rapidly changing economy; (3) claiming that “values issues” or “patriotism” (i.e., support for the Bush administration’s national security policies) are objectively more important than mere “material” bread-and-butter economic issues; and (4) denouncing demands for even-handed economic policies or opposition to reverse-Robin-Hood tax priorities as forms of a divisive “class warfare” that threatens national unity and economic growth.
Methinks conservatives should cease and desist in all these lines of argument if they really intend to keep calling Barack Obama an “elitist.” To cite one example, there’s something pretty risible about the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal blasting Obama’s condescension towards the cannon-fodder of that newspaper’s loony and disastrous economic policies.
Let’s recall that the real elitists in this country are the folks who currently exercise most of the political and economic power, and they are not at present found on the political Left.
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The Republicans are also trying to paint Obama as “elitist,” but that’s the standard GOP template (twice used successfully by George W. Bush – a graduate of Phillips Academy Andover, Yale University, and Harvard Business School, son of a former president and grandson of a former U.S. senator). It’s particularly amusing to hear that “elitist” label being thrown around by John McCain, given the fact that McCain is married to a multimillionaire heiress; that McCain wants to extend the Bush tax cuts that help the rich at the expense of the working class; and that he has spent weeks tweaking his mortgage assistance proposal, which originally offered homeowners the same quality of aid that Herbert Hoover extended to Great Depression victims nearly 80 years ago. (Another thigh-slapper: William Kristol – descendent of a Manhattan intellectual family, and son of a New York University professor – used his New York Times column today to argue that Cling-gate is proof of Obama’s attitudinal ties to…Karl Marx.)

Selah.

2 comments on ““Elitism” Through the Looking-Glass

  1. pan230 on

    While I agree with Ed Kilgore’s premise, I have seen how the “framers” on the right side of the spectrum have used the word “elitist” over and over again since at least the middle of the 1990’s to portray almost anyone with a liberal point of view as someone who doesn’t care about the needs of those whose economic fortunes have changed for the worse. My take on Obama’s remarks last week was that they indicated a deep sense of “other” – not unlike a “typical white person” – and a depersonalization of the unique struggles of the individuals and families. Many voters are looking for someone to not only show or describe a better time, but be able to put together policies and initiatives that will bring about real change for the better.

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  2. vwcaat on

    In the arguments being used against Obama over what he said at a fundraiser, his rival and the gop are using elitist like Kerry or Gore.
    It was not that Kerry or Gore were painted elitist. People are smart enough to know better. Kerry and to some extent Gore, were perceived by people as unlikable.
    People know pols do things like try to show they fit in with average people by doing photo ops. that is not the point.
    When you look at Dukakis or Kerry, you see people who are just not that likable.
    That is not Obama’s problem.
    The gop is very predictable and people know the games. They don’t buy them. They just want a candidate they feel comfortable with. Obama’s remarks are not offensive to people except for Hillary supporters.
    As for Working Class whites, it’s not Obama has a problem with them. It’s that he is unknown to them. They are name brand people. They know Clinton and remember Bill’s economy of the 90s. They feel she will bring Bill and he will fix it.
    It has nothing to do with Obama himself. They just see him as an unknown and inexperienced in their eyes.
    The problem with pundits and strategists, ect., is that they don’t really know the average person and how they think or feel.

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