Thursday, April 17, 2008

Whose Elitism is Worse?

Here's a point worth pondering:

It's come to this: a white, Ivy League grad from a wealthy Republican family calls a mixed-race black kid from a single-mom family an "elitist" and the racists and shoulder-pad feminists pile on - desperate for any excuse to not vote for a black male who worked for $10,000 per year as an Inner City community organizer out of college and just recently paid off his student loans.

Said ambitious, wealthy white woman worked as an attorney right out of college and quickly became a partner in one of Arkansas' most prestigious (at the time) law firms. She has a net worth of over $109 million--all garnered in the last eight years. Before that she claimed to be some $7 million in debt due to legal bills. Her family net worth is over 100 times that of the "elitist" she scorns.

Damn straight.

I was amused with the whole "dust up" about Barack Obama's presumed "elitism" -- this coming from Hillary Clinton (who made a combined income of more than $100 million dollars since Bill left office) and John McCain, who is married to a multi-millionaire owner of a beer distributer and worth an estimated $100 million or more, lives a lifestyle (including a private jet) that seems to make him among the financial elite in this country -- oh yeah, he's worth $40 million on his own.

It's hard to compare these two with a man who graduated from Harvard Law School and went to work in Chicago's inner city rather than making the big money he could have in a major law firm.

Here's a British view of the elitism issue, from The Economist:

The war between “ordinary people” and “condescending elites” is one of the great themes of American politics. “Ordinary people” are real Americans: they worship God, revere America and love their families. “Condescending elites” are crypto-Europeans—the sort of people who eat arugula, do sissified jobs in offices and universities, and scheme to ban guns and legalise gay marriage. Mr Obama not only put himself firmly on the “wrong” side of this great cultural divide; he implied that “ordinary Americans” are the victims of “false consciousness” for not falling in love with him.

But this pandering to “ordinary Americans” is annoying in all sorts of ways. Isn't America supposed to be a meritocracy? Two-thirds of Americans reject the idea that people's chances in life are determined by circumstances that are beyond their control, a far higher proportion than in Europe. Almost 90% say that they admire people who have got rich through hard work. Yet whenever elections come around politicians treat the people at the bottom of the heap as the embodiment of American values. And aren't Americans supposed to believe in self-reliance? America's farms are some of the country's biggest subsidy hogs. Many small towns—Congressman Jack Murtha's Johnstown in central Pennsylvania is an egregious example—are kept alive only by federal pork. As for family values, America's small towns and rural havens suffer from higher rates of marital breakdown and illegitimate births than the degenerate big cities.

But pander the politicians feel they must. This week Mrs Clinton downed a shot of Crown Royal whisky in Bronko's Restaurant and Lounge in Crown Point, Indiana. She also entertained America with stories about how her father taught her to shoot. But does anybody believe that Mrs Clinton spends her days shooting and her evenings throwing back the whisky? Mrs Clinton is a graduate of Wellesley College and Yale Law School. The Clintons' joint income since 2000 was $109m. Mrs Clinton joined the million-mom march against gun violence. Back in the mid-1990s the Clintons both went on a Wyoming rafting holiday because Dick Morris, their pollster, told them that it would go down well with “the folks”. They were soon enough back at Martha's Vineyard.

The same is true, perhaps even truer, on the conservative side of the aisle. John McCain—son and grandson of four-star admirals, husband of a woman who is worth $100m and owner of several houses—follows in a long tradition. George Bush senior mocked Michael Dukakis for his Harvard Yard liberalism. But “Poppy” went to Yale (where his father was on the board of directors) and was once nonplussed by a supermarket scanner. Bob Dole, who liked to boast that his father wore overalls for 42 years, made millions and married a fellow all-star politician. And as for George Bush junior...

The hypocrisy extends to the commentariat who have been busting their cheeks blowing their populist trumpets. Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly make millions out of championing “the folks” against “the elites”. Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz are the Ivy-educated sons of famous parents who are based, respectively, in Washington, DC, and New York City.

At Real Clear Politics -- in Whose Elitism Is Worse -- Joe Conason takes on the issue of whose elitism we want running the country. He references McCain's attack on Obama in light of his refusal to support the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with commensurate benefits as veterans of other wars have received.

"They suffered the worst during the Depression, but it did not shake their faith in, and fidelity to, America. They did not turn to their religious faith and cultural traditions out of resentment and a feeling of powerlessness to affect the course of government or pursue prosperity. On the contrary, their faith had given generations of their families purpose and meaning, as it does today."

Now this is all standard-issue rhetoric, designed to insinuate that Obama disdains traditional American culture and religious piety (although he probably attends church at least as often as McCain). Harking back to the era of the Depression and World War II, the Republican may have unintentionally emphasized both his own advanced age and the perilous condition in which his party and president have left the country and the world.

The inspiring story of the "greatest generation," in which he seems to be claiming honorary membership, is not only a narrative of faith and patriotism. The brave men and women who rose from America's towns and cities to defeat fascism had a stake in a democratic society "worth the fighting for," to borrow the title of McCain's last best-seller. Despite the terrible rigors of the Depression, they remained confident in democracy's future because a progressive government acted vigorously on behalf of them and their families -- and acknowledged their service when they returned from war.

When those soldiers came home to build the nation that dominated the 20th century, they achieved unprecedented prosperity and security, thanks not only to their own work and faith, but also to liberal policy that guaranteed their education, health care and access to credit. The original 1944 GI Bill ranks among the greatest legislative works in American history, with beneficial effects on the U.S. economy that repaid its cost many times over. (Incidentally, the benefits of the original bill included low-interest mortgages with no down payment -- not so different from the "subprime" loans that working-class homeowners are now criticized for signing.)

Of course, McCain knows all this history, too, which raises the tough question of why he refuses to support Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with commensurate benefits. Having built his own career on his service and suffering in Vietnam, he surely must be aware that the new generation of vets receives nothing like the assistance made available to those who served with him -- because the landmark bill has not been updated for so many years. The current level of benefits doesn't cover even half the cost of state college tuition for most soldiers.

That is why Sens. James Webb of Virginia and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska wrote the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, whose cost is estimated at less than $4 billion, or approximately one-tenth of 1 percent in the total expense of the current war. They have gathered 53 co-sponsors, including nine Republicans and three of the four other Vietnam veterans in the Senate, but they need 60 to defeat a likely filibuster by conservatives who've never served.

Incredibly, McCain has so far refused to add his name to the sponsors. His startling excuse is he has not had any time to read the bill during the past year or so. He has time to barbecue sausages for journalists. He has time to take a bus tour glorifying his own service. And he has time to hold fundraisers in Atlanta, New Orleans, Phoenix, St. Louis, New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas and even London.

I'm not convinced this is actually elitism, but it doesn't reflect well on McCain's character.

Now, for some comic relief. Jon Stewart takes on the Obama mis-speak on The Daily Show.

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