New, Improved “Other”

Only the second day, and already a slight diversion from the crisis chronicle. I guess the elements of one’s crisis can be pretty broad…

What is with this teeth-gnashing over the “elitists” in our midst? The Sarah Palin vice-presidential candidacy has unleashed a torrent of right-wing jabber about the scary elitists who don’t like the gun-totin’, Bible-thumpin’, caribou-eatin’ beauty queen, who’s really just a regular working mom and a damn fine American. Well, maybe she is; we’ll see. But are the “elitists” really the aloof, smug, pointy-heads (or baby-eating, fire-breathing monsters; six of one…) the conservative talking knuckleheads and McCain toadies make them out to be?

Or is just good ol’ American demonizing at work. You know, some Republican folks just trying to do the voodoo that we do so well.

Not up on our past efforts to create an “other” that we can blame all our ills on, and then despise, persecute, hunt down, execute, or lynch? Ok, I’m sure this list is not exhaustive, but in rough chronological order we have: the Indians, the slaves, the Quakers (what? The quiet, kind Quakers? All right, maybe pacifism is a little suspect in these parts, but persecute them? Well, just check out some history from 17th century colonial Massachusetts; I have a play on the subject too, if anyone wants to read it. Anyone??), Catholics, the Irish, freed slaves, Italians, Jews, blacks – again, socialists and Communists, Hispanics, gays. And did I mention blacks? And Indians?

Since the rise of the radical right, we’ve seen some pretty persistent efforts to demonize liberals too. But you can’t quite persecute them the same way you can a marginal minority group. Liberals have too much money and power for that. But you can question their patriotism if they happen to think the Bill of Rights still means something. You can attack their efforts to make things, you know, more equal for everybody by trying to improve health care, calling it – ooohhh! – socialized medicine (see list of the dreaded ones above). You can sneer every time you say the word liberal, letting everybody know just how depraved they are.

Now, in this Year of the Caribou, we have some people trying to pin the same horns, trident, and forked tail on those darn elitists. These people who can’t relate to good simple folk like Sarah and Bristol and Willow and Elm and Piper and Plucker and…Those darn elitists, who like their liberal brethren (elitists are actually just a subset, but with more impressive zip codes) want to take away our freedom to blow up the financial markets with ill-conceived securitization, to bilk the government over military contracts in Iraq, to herd protesters of public policy into tidy little wire-mesh pens.

I guess I know who these supposed elitists are. By many definitions, I would be one, and maybe that’s why the whole horn-and-trident thing makes me so prickly. I actually think it’s good to have intelligent leaders. I think black and white are fine colors in fashions, but I want some shades of gray in my policy debates. I don’t think the free market was ordained by God, and while we’re on that subject, I don’t think Judeo-Christian beliefs should dictate laws about abortion and gays, among other things. Elitist as charged.

But do elitists have parents who never went to college? Or a father who worked two or three jobs at once, with one of them centered on picking up other people’s trash and emptying their cigarette-choked ashtrays and wiping out their toilets after some unfortunate soul’s bout with the runs during lunchtime? I had a father like that, and I spent years beside him emptying those ashtrays and swirling a Johnny-mop around those toilets. I had grandparents who scratched out livings as farmers. I have nieces and nephews who struggle to raise families and make ends meet in these tough times. And one niece who’s waiting for her husband to get back from his second stint in Afghanistan. Yeah, you’re right, I’m trotting out my working-to-middle-class bona fides. And trying to make a point: People who support Barack Obama, or oppose McCain and Co., can’t be reduced to some dumb stereotype about who’s an elitist. That charge, coming from the people who support a guy with seven homes, is pretty funny. And hunting caribou and catching salmon are fine, I guess, but they’re not part of the lifestyle of anybody I know. And I doubt they’re necessarily good qualities for a potential president. So enough with the “elitists”-as-demons and the more-populist-than-thou crap already.

That’s all.


~ by mburgan on September 18, 2008.

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