Friday, September 05, 2008


Look, I'm not going to criticize anyone for taking a circuitous route through college. I understand that college is a time for a lot of young people to really discover themselves, and it's natural that some people will go about that in different ways, from trying new experiences to changing majors several times to changing colleges several times. And the fact that someone lacked for focus while in college doesn't mean they can't go on to greater things in life.  But it truly boggles my mind that the Republican party will roll out someone like Sarah Palin to paint someone like Barack Obama as an out-of-touch elitist. Obama embodies the suppposed Republican (and American) ideal of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and making something of yourself on your own. He paid his own way to go to Columbia University and Harvard Law School, he made excellent grades at both, he was the first African-American Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Review, and he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. These are accomplishments that most Americans would laud, and rightly so. But because he's an excellent public speaker, obviously talented and intelligent, went to Ivy League schools (as if no conservatives have ever graduated from Columbia or Harvard) and more crucially, because he's a Democrat, he's an elitist who can't relate to the "common folk." He embodies what's best about our country, that someone who is ambitious and willing to work hard can accomplish great things in life, but because of who he is Republicans turn this trait upside down, mock his success and roll out a hack like Palin who apparently drifted through college without any serious focus or aim, and who we're apparently supposed to be able to relate to because most of us are also losers who resent the successful and ambitious. Paul Krugman, discussing this phenomenon in today's column, has this to say:

What the G.O.P. is the pure politics of resentment; you’re supposed to vote Republican to stick it to an elite that thinks it’s better than you. Or to put it another way, the G.O.P. is still the party of Nixon.

One of the key insights in “Nixonland,” the new book by the historian Rick Perlstein, is that Nixon’s political strategy throughout his career was inspired by his college experience, in which he got himself elected student body president by exploiting his classmates’ resentment against the Franklins, the school’s elite social club. There’s a direct line from that student election to Spiro Agnew’s attacks on the “nattering nabobs of negativism” as “an effete corps of impudent snobs,” and from there to the peculiar cult of personality that not long ago surrounded George W. Bush — a cult that celebrated his anti-intellectualism and made much of the supposed fact that the “misunderestimated” C-average student had proved himself smarter than all the fancy-pants experts.

And when Mr. Bush turned out not to be that smart after all, and his presidency crashed and burned, the angry right — the raging rajas of resentment? — became, if anything, even angrier. Humiliation will do that.

Judith Warner says something similar:

Republicans, very clearly, believe that real people are idiots. This disdain for their smarts shows up in the whole way they’ve cast this race now, turning a contest over economic and foreign policy into a culture war of the Real vs. the Elites. It’s a smoke and mirrors game aimed at diverting attention from the fact that the party’s tax policies have helped create an elite that’s more distant from “the people” than ever before. And from the fact that the party’s dogged allegiance to up-by-your-bootstraps individualism — an individualism exemplified by Palin, the frontierswoman who somehow has managed to “balance” five children and her political career with no need for support — is leading to a culture-wide crack-up.

It's amazing that at the convention of a party that is favored by the wealthiest elite in our nation, an audience full of what is almost certainly the country's elite-stockbrokers, financiers, CEOs, politicians, party activists and whatnot-can cheer at lines about Democrat elitism. It's infuriating to watch them turn what's best about our country into a line of attack so they can win elections, and then once they're in office prattle on about how people need to take "personal responsibility" for their lives and their choices while they're their drafting tax laws that would shield the inherited wealth of their "base." Obama did that, and he's about to be the next President of the United States, and that's an accomplishment that everyone should respect and admire whatever they think of his politics. We should all have such a "elitism" in us, but if the Republicans had their way we'd be nation of morons electing morons who are in turn led around by their noses by the elite who laugh at our stupidity in backrooms at the White House. 

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