[This article is the first in a series on Elitism, Conservatives and Progressives.]
I have been meaning to get my ideas straight on elitism for some weeks now, but little did I realise how central it was to so many philosophical issues that I am talking about on this blog. The catalyst for this series of articles was my previous article on Obama’s Appalachian problem, which I thought was explained brilliantly by Senator Jim Webb. Webb is an Appalachian of Scottish-Irish descent, the very demographic that has been causing so many problems for Obama. I will return to the attitudes of progressive elites to the ‘racism’ of the Appalachians later.
One of the clearest explanations of Elitism in US politics was written by Jonathan Chait in a short article, Popular Will, where he says:
Since blue-collar whites have been trending Republican, conservatives enjoy a presumptive affinity and have taken it upon themselves to police the political culture for any affronts against their favored class. The rules of the game, understood now by all sides, hold that elitism is defined entirely in social, rather than economic, terms. Thus Obama’s attempts to highlight his (relative) lack of wealth did not win him any points. Nor did McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, attract any criticism when he called Obama an “elitist” within a few days of convening a gathering of Washington lobbyists at Johnny’s Half Shell on Capitol Hill.
On the other hand, McCain did stir up a bit of negative publicity when bloggers discovered that what his campaign website billed as Cindy McCain’s recipes turned out to be copied verbatim from the Food Network. To be down with the working class, you needn’t represent its political interests or even share its lifestyle. You simply have to be able to convincingly imitate its social customs.
I recommend everyone who hasn’t done so read the whole article. Chait makes clear that there is an enormous amount of hypocrisy bound up in the issue which makes me curious about the causes of this ‘elitism’ charge that the Republicans stick to the Democrats so successfully. Are the Democrats doing anything to deserve this abuse (Republicans being just as elitist)? And to what extent is Barack Obama culpable for attracting this charge of elitism (apart from his poorly-chosen ‘bitter’ words)?