Friday, January 14, 2011

The Right Wing's Anti-Elite Elitism Exposed

Charles Krauthammer, no Obamaphile by any stretch of the imagination, exposes Rush Limbaugh for the Anti-Elite Elitist that he is:

I've said it before in different contexts and in different ways, but I'll say it again now: certain anti-elite demagogues of the Rightwing, of which Limbaugh is one, point to intelligence, statesmanship, competence, and gravitas in a liberal President as if it were somehow a bad thing. It is quite telling of the partisan hack and fraud that he is that Limbaugh demeans what are essentially admirable qualities by calling it a kind of hallmark of "elitism" -- which in Palinite code is a bad word akin to a profanity. When this branch of conservatives claims that it prefers that its President NOT demonstrate such "elitist" characteristics, it is essentially embracing the idea that it prefers the opposite for its leader: ignorance, un-statesmanship, incompetence, and unseriousness. And it links this kind of unflattering and ordinary mediocrity in its leaders to what it considers to be the solid, average, "real" American. They would like their President to be, for lack of a better way to describe it, nothing better than the average Joe. I am always baffled by this. Why would any American not want his President, the leader of the free world, to be an extraordinary person? I don't know about you, but I'd rather my President not be just "average." I don't want my President to be like my mother. God bless her sweet soul, but my mother, as magnificent and wonderful as she is in so many ways, has no business being President. Why is having a President who is exceptional in intelligence, leadership, creativity, oratory, persuasiveness, etc., always suspect to such people? Maybe conservatives don't think Obama rises to this level, but Limbaugh's comment exposes the reality that it's not really Obama that is the issue, but rather the whole idea of what they think defines an "elite." George W. Bush had to "dumb himself down" to win the accolades of the "average Joe" wing of the conservative movement. In their effort to counteract a notion of "elitism" as arrogance coupled with an unwarranted claim of privilege, they also abandon the notion of elite as special, unrivalled excellence. When we speak of the Green Berets as an "elite" unit within the armed forces, isn't that something we admire and take pride in? When we speak of Peyton Manning as being among the "elite" of NFL quarterbacks, aren't we talking about something positive? So, for Obama to act Presidential as we would want any President to act, for him to deliver a truly elite performance in terms of quality and excellence, that demonstration of excellence becomes for folks like Limbaugh nothing more than an expression of "elitism" worthy of scorn and derision. Krauthammer just nails Limbaugh on this point and exposes him for the partisan hack and fraud that he is. In fact, I'd say Krauthammer's point is a veiled dig at Limbaugh, a dig which hints subtly at a kind of small-minded, unpatriotic, anti-American attitude festering in the soul of Talk Radio's most notorious grinch. Interesting also that this is all coming from within the ranks of the conservative movement itself.


eric said...

While I don't think your portrayal of conservative attitudes is exactly correct, I will say this: for many conservatives, and probably a lot of red-state Democrats too, when they see a young or carreer politician with an Ivy League diploma and a high-minded persona, their first thought is, "If you were all that smart and talented you would be doing something with your life other than politics."

I think you can look at Tom Coburn as more of the conservative ideal. He is well educated, competent, serious, can be eloquent when he needs to be, but
treats his job as a politician as something that is more of an annoying duty that is almost beneath his talents, as opposed to the pinnacle of his social and professional aspirations.

Huck said...

Eric - I'm not speaking about all conservatives. Krauthammer is certainly a conservative that I wouldn't necessarily place in the "Anti-Elite Elitist" category. And I wouldn't place Coburn in this category either. I find Coburn to be a principled, talented, and competent public servant, even though I disagree with his politics on many fronts. (In fact, I find it very interesting -- and I hope you've noticed this -- that Obama has always been very laudatory of Coburn. And I don't think that's happenstance. I think Obama acknowledges also what you and I (and anyone) can see about Coburn. In this regard, I don't think it is a stretch to think Coburn is an "elite" politician.)

I know what you think of politics as a profession, and I can respect that. You once referred to it, I think, in terms of a cardinal sin in choosing a professional career. And I concede that many (in fact most) politicians are craven opportunists. But I will also say that one can be an exceptional public servant -- one who forms part of that "elite" political class. I personally believe Obama to be part of that "elite." But even if one doesn't feel that way about Obama generally, I also think it is fair to say that Obama's performance and speech in Tuscon certainly exemplifies that which we should consider to be admirable behavior in a politician, much less in a President. Why is it that admiring Obama's performance is de facto derisive to Limbaugh as a manifestion of this dirty concept of "elitism"? Limbaugh's reaction begs the question of what kind of performance he would have praised as exemplifying excellence? That was Krauthammer's veiled dig.

For my part, I would contend that being a politician in and of itself is not necessarily a lesser profession than any other. It's rather the character of the individual exercising the role that defines how noble or ignoble it appears.

eric said...

So, if you consider Coburnto be an 'elite' politician, what does that say about the many conservatives who support him? Doesn't that hurt the anti-elite elitism label you are trying to pin on them?

And yes, I have noticed that President Obama and other liberals often work with Coburn on bipartisan issues. He and Chuck Schumer were on Meet The Press yesterday and Schumer was paying him a lot of compliments as well. But here's the thing that sort of bothers me: Coburn is one of the loudest voices out there saying that Obama's policies are going to crumble our nation and ruin our Republic. Aren't those the kinds of statements that the left says drive people to extremism? Why does Coburn get a pass?

Huck said...

Eric - Folks can like Coburn for a wide variety of reasons, one of them being simply that he is a Republican, without knowing all that much more about him. Coburn is very convinced that his vision is the correct vision, and he finds problems with liberal approaches. But that's to be expected. I don't know that I've ever heard Coburn go off the rails an refer to Obama as a socialist or an illegitimate President. I don't think I've heard Coburn calling liberals unpatriotic. I haven't heard Coburn level a kind of apocalyptic view of liberalism like some on the rightwing do. Moreover, even if that were true, Coburn's willingness to work with Obama and other liberals and his apparent understanding that collaboration and, yes, compromise is a grown-up way of governing with those who disagree with his politics, makes him a respectable conservative.

Frankly, I've never gotten the impression from Coburn that he thinks Obama's policies are going to ruin our country and its democracy. He certainly hasn't given any legitimacy to anything like "second amendment remedies" or other kinds of implicit violent rhetoric to resolve political disputes. I think this is where you misunderstand my (and other liberals') criticism of the dangerous and irresponsible statements. It's not thinking, or even saying, that liberalism will ruin the United States that is the problem. Most liberals don't have any problem with that kind of speech. I certainly don't. What I have a problem with, and what I think is the crux of the criticism, is the belief that the solution to this "problem" of liberalism is violence against one's opponents. It's the language of armed revolution that is irresponsible. I'm sure you can see the difference here. And I've never heard Coburn use such language, have you?

eric said...

Coburn rarely goes in for a personal attack, but he is fairly ruthless when it comes to attacking ideas. During the Obamacare debate, for instance, he published numerous articles saying that passage would uncategorically endanger the lives of millions of Americans. Now you tell me what is more likely to incite someone to violence, seeing an ad with a political district in crosshairs, or being told that your President is pushing legislation that might endager the life of your wife and kids?

And that was the gist of the (very good)conversation I saw on Meet The Press last weekend, that it isn't so much the militant words we use (i.e., "in our crosshairs" "boot on their throat" "kneecapping" our political opponents) that are dangerous, as much as the way we portray the consequences of political outcomes.

I think there is something to that, but I also think it vitally important that people realize that violent revolution, both wholesale and retail, is a natural consequence of government that has been percieved to overstep its boundaries, and that such perceptions are often based in reality. To some degree, you can't critisize a government for being too large and powerful without raising some risk of people considering whether it has grown so large and powerful that it is no longer legitimate. But such critisisms are necessary in a constitutional republic, if the constitution is to mean anything at all, and therefore the risks that go along with them are a cost of doing business.