Friday, February 27, 2009

Two Examples of Elitism, One Acceptable, the Other Irritating

The first (acceptable) one, from Jon Chait:
"Those Washington elite," Palin remarked, "don't like the idea of just an everyday working-class American running for such an office." It's true, we don't. On the other hand, we don't like the idea of an everyday upper-class American potentially assuming the presidency, either. Our ideal president would know much more about public policy than an everyday American of any social class.
The second (irritating) one, from Isaac Chotiner:

One rule of American politics (and American political discourse) is that commentators and (Democratic) politicians are not allowed to even suggest that a large percentage of the electorate is none-too-bright. Forty percent of people think Saddam was behind 9/11, huh? Don't say it is because they are dumb; don't you know how elitist and out-of-touch that makes you sound? (The other great answer given here is that people are too busy. Yes, people may watch four hours of television every day, but they do not possess the time to pick up a newspaper and learn that Obama is in fact a Christian). All of which is a belated way of saying that a report in this morning's New York Times is noteworthy. An excerpt:

For 90 minutes on Wednesday, during a lively, at times tense closed-door meeting in Manhattan, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pleaded his case, trying to persuade five Republican chairmen to let him run on their party’s ballot line this fall.


He is the undisputed front-runner in the race, but without the backing of a major party, his name could appear six rows over to the right on the ballot in November, turning off voters who have always favored brand names in municipal politics.

What is the implication here, and why is Bloomberg so concerned about getting his name listed with everyone else's? Is the mayor(-for-life) suggesting that the great and good American people are not intelligent enough to find the name of the person they want to vote for? And the New York press, of course, has been reporting on this story frequently, but without mentioning the obvious upshot. Apparently it is acceptable for everyone to take stupidity for granted, but only elitists have the indecency to say so.

These two both allude to the fact that most Americans don't follow politics or policy particularly closely, but a big difference between these two is that Chotiner is celebrating that fact simply for its own sake, while Chait is using it simply to affirm that being of the masses is not in and of itself a qualification for higher office. It's like the difference between being called stupid after confusing Freddie Mercury and David Bowie in front of a group of music experts, and having someone announce that you are stupid at a party with no provocation at all, with the far less worthy goal of disseminating knowledge of your stupidity. The first would be embarrassing, the second infuriating.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This guy here, a friend of mine, also talks about a recent case of elitism.
He and I both loved this article. Would you mind giving your views on his?