Sunday, May 04, 2008

Elitism and snobbery

There's an argument I keep seeing raised. Democrats are elitist, they say.

Well, you know something? I am an elitist. If I want a physicist to do some tricky theory work, I want Stephen Hawking. If I am picking basketball players for a team, I want Lebron James or Kobe Bryant, or, hell, if I get to go back in time, how about Wilt Chamberlain or Julius Erving in their primes? And if I want a President, I want one who can obey the law, not start wars he can't finish, not start wars at all unless there's no other choice, not set a policy of allowing torture "as long as we think that they might be really bad people", and, hey, just for giggles, can pronounce it "noo-clee-er" not "noo-cyu-ler".

Sorry, that last bit is a little petty, but my feeling is, if you're going to be in charge of nuclear weapons, and chose to be in the public eye, you lose your right to be sloppy. How you present yourself is how you want to be judged, and I don't want a President who likes pretending to be sloppy with the most dangerous weapons in existence.

But anyway... Democrats are elitist is the charge. Which is ridiculous, because there's lots of times when you do want to pick the elite. As the old joke goes, the battle doesn't always go to the strong, or the race to the swift, but that's the way to bet.

Of course, the Republicans want to pretend that strength and swiftness don't matter so much as striving. George W. Bush doesn't have to be smart or a good speaker or a wise leader... but he believes in himself and he believes in America.

And he's got us stuck in a war in the Middle East that some folks say we should leave, and the other folks say we can't leave. So how's that working out for us? America's military, pinned down in some pissant little Middle Eastern nation, but George W. Bush thinks he can, just like the little engine that could!

The thing is, the Republicans don't really oppose elites. They just haven't got the leaders who can measure up. Their candidate this year isn't going to talk "family values", not when he dumped his wife to marry into money. Oh, right, and he's a war hero, because he was tortured by the Vietnamese, can't forget that. And when he faced down the Bush administration (with Bush insisting on the right to torture), his "compromise" was a bill that handed the definition of what constitutes torture to, Survey Says... the Bush administration. Who already had once decided that it wasn't torture unless the pain was like you were dying. Nice going, John McCain!

The Republicans know you need the elite, the people who are really good at what they do. But they want to tag the Democrats as nasty people, so they use the term elitist. Why?

Because there's another word they want to use, and can't... because everyone can see it's not true.

The word they're trying to use is "snob". What's the difference between an elitist and a snob? Well, an elitist about coffee wants the best coffee around. He might spend several hundred bucks on a special coffee maker, or a hundred bucks on a coffee grinder (Uh... guilty :-) ). A snob, on the other hand, berates you because you're okay drinking any old cup of joe from the local mini-mart. "How can you drink that swill?" asks the snob.

An elitist can be a snob, of course; there's no reason that one precludes the other. But a non-snob elitist will be sitting next to you, glaring at the snob, and take a sip of his coffee and then admit the snob is right... this isn't good coffee. But it's coffee... it's got caffeine in it. Don't let the snob talk down to you, because what you like is okay.

The Republicans want you to think that the Democrats are snobs, that they look down upon other folks. And how do they do it? Hey, Obama was talking to some farmers (in a state where some farmers grow arugula) and asked if any of them had seen the price of arugula in Whole Foods. Hah! the Republicans say; he's a snob. He shops at Whole Foods and eats arugula!

Except he's not. Do you see him looking down on folks? No. But he's different, you see. He shops at Whole Foods. He eats food with funny sounding names! And if he's different, that means he's bad, he's not as good as the Republicans, who don't talk about Whole Foods or arugula.

So, in short, they want you to think Barack Obama is a snob. Why? Because people who aren't like the Republican norm are bad people, not good, solid Republican-like people. That's right, you should be like the Republican image consultants think you should be, and if you aren't, they'll look down their nose at you. "How can you drink that swill?" they say, pointing to a latte.

Which makes them just like the coffee snob in reverse, doesn't it? "Be like us, or it proves you're terrible." The Republicans have always pretended to like differences, but never have quite gotten the hang of actually accepting them, have they?

Ah, but the arugula bit isn't all they've got on Barack Obama, is it? There's the whole "cling to religion" and all that crap, right?

Folks, everyone who follows politics has heard the refrain. How do the Republicans win elections? The strategy is "God, guns, and gays," and now they've added anti-immigrant sentiment to the mix. Obama told the simple truth: a lot of folks are voting based upon religion, upon gun rights, upon opposition to gay rights, immigration, etc.. If you listen to his whole statement, he's saying he can offer them something better than a bunch of talk about what a Good Christian he is, or how much he loves guns, or how he thinks gay rights are divisive, or about how we should build a 200 foot tall wall along the Mexican border.

He's saying he thinks he can offer folks in small towns and rural areas some real substance, not a lot of talk, not a lot of identity politics. That's his goal; that's how he wants to win the election.

Sure, he didn't put his words through a Republican-Approved Spin Machine. He didn't say what he wanted to say as well as he could have. But snobbery? It ain't there, folks... he's saying he can offer better substance than the Republican spin-game will, and if he can, he'll win people's votes.

Imagine that... a politician saying that he thinks he can earn people's votes by giving them what they really want, instead of a select set of talking points.

That's not snobbery. That's a politician who is actually trying to do his job and do it right.

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