In politics, it often seems like both sides have precisely the same goals. They are always—no matter the issue—fighting for “Main Street” and the “American people” against “corporate greed” and “special interests” represented by “lobbyists.” It doesn’t matter which party—both sides use virtually the same language to advance their agendas.
One of the most common slurs used in politics is “elitist”—both sides use it, seemingly with equal regularity. A quote from Jonah Goldberg sums up the conservative view of liberals: “…[At a charge of elitism], some liberal spluttered herbal chai tea from her nose at the injustice of this whole elitist canard, and the earnest Ivy League interns at some liberal magazine have burst into laughter, offering the appropriate bons mots from Balzac…” Conservatives see liberals as overeducated, ivory tower theorizers who are out of touch will real Americans.
Liberals, on the other hand, also view conservatives as elitists, but of a different sort. They see conservatives as old money, greedy industrialists; gloating over their trophy wives while smoking cigars on the yacht before heading back to the private jet. (Think any John Grisham villain, or Mitt Romney). Liberals think conservatives are the ones out of touch with real Americans.
Actually, both sides are right. Many liberals are out-of-touch with the real world—the blog stuffwhitepeoplelike.com has the attitudes and wants of your average liberal about right. And there are many conservatives who don’t understand the worries of working people. (I went to a McCain-Palin rally a few weeks ago; the people there seemed decent and hard-working—but nobody had to worry about where their next meal was coming from) Both sides are right—both liberals and conservatives are elitist.
But is that a bad thing? I must confess that the antipathy towards “elitists” has always baffled me. I’ve never read Balzac (to refer to Jonah Goldberg’s example), or drank herbal chai tea. But when I do read Balzac (I figure I’ll read him at some point in my life), I’ll quote him. And if I ever decide herbal teas would make my life better, I will drink them unashamedly.
Likewise, I’m not rich (yet). But if I ever do become wealthy, I’ll go to polo matches and smoke cigars and do whatever else rich people do (rehab?) without a trace of guilt. Wealth is nothing to be ashamed of; neither does it make one a bad person.
I think that much of the hostility towards “elitists” stems from simple jealousy. There are some moneyed people dependant on family money, but most of the upper class earned what they have. But they get called “elitist” by people who lack either the ability or the determination (or both) to go out and earn money for themselves.
Likewise, cultured people are, sadly, rather rare. It’s easy to call people who quote Balzac “elitist”—it’s hard to actually go out and learn Balzac yourself. If people spent half as much time educating themselves as they do accusing educated people of elitism, the intellectual life of this country would be much higher.
Actually, it’s the so-called “elitists” who actually get things done in this country. It’s not easy to love Lee Scott (never heard of him? He’s CEO of Wal-mart) or Bill Gates—but try getting by without Wal-Mart or Microsoft. And it’s not easy to love cultural elitists (the Balzac quoters), but they do add a lot to the intellectual quality of America, and academia, for all its flaws, is a crucial part of society.
In fact, it seems safe to say that it’s the “regular Americans” who are the problem. They are inexcusably uneducated, have no notion of fiscal responsibility, and are almost wholly scientifically illiterate. Disagree? Then consider that nearly one in four American can’t find the United States [!] on a world map, the incredible amount of debt carried most Americans, or the fact that over half the country doesn’t believe in evolution (or if you believe in evolution, then consider that the United States is ranked well behind other countries in science education). This state of affairs is unpardonable. In America, elitism shouldn’t be considered a bad thing—in fact, elitists may be our only hope.