Elitism for Dummies

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Bush Administration, conservatism

President Bush’s unintentionally hilarious/embarrassing/revealing/pathetic remark to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo about the White House chef once again stirred up the “elitism” issue for me.

Were it not for the affected Texas accent, ol’ George would seem a character right out of some dry satire about a clueless and inbred European nobility. In some ways he’s the spoiled, undisciplined boy in school blazer and knickers who disrupts his mother’s crystal-and-china garden parties. Yet in other ways I sense his whole life is driven by brooding resentments and an urge to settle scores.

I’ve also long been curious about the Texas accent, since he appears to be the only member of his family who has one. One wonders if the accent and the rest of the folksy persona developed before or after Little Georgie was shipped back East to the Phillips Academy.

One definition of “elitism” is “The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.” By that definition, Little Georgie is elitist to the core. He’s so entitled he can’t see his own limitations, and so thoroughly elitist he may not see his elitism as elitism, as he’s been protected from other ways to view the world.

You probably know that one of the Right’s favorite Fantasy Narratives is of the mysterious “liberal elite” that secretly runs everything and which countless right-wing politicians have won elections running against, even though it doesn’t exist. Oh, there are certainly groups of elitist liberals, but they haven’t had enough influence to impact a bag of marshmallows for years.

Anyway, awhile back I was reading some op ed by some blue-blooded, Ivy League-educated right-wing pundit in the Wall Street Journal, and out of the blue this guy slams somebody else for being an elitist. Too rich; I’m sorry I didn’t bookmark it. But this is what I mean by unconscious elitism.

Right-wing elitists in particular just love to think of themselves as Men (or Women, as it were) of the People, particularly the People of the Homeland, because these People share their Values and are easily snookered can be flattered into voting for Republican candidates who present themselves as People Just Like Them, and who in turn can be counted on to protect the privileges and prerogatives of the right-wing elitists who don’t see themselves as elitists.

John McCain’s recent mangling of Barack Obama’s famous “bitter” remark is also illustrative:

“We’re going to go to the small towns in Pennsylvania and I’m gonna to tell them I don’t agree with Senator Obama that they cling to their religion and the Constitution because they’re bitter,” said McCain, who might have been referring to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. “I’m gonna tell them they have faith and they have trust and support the Constitution of the United States because they have optimism and hope… That’s what America’s all about.”

A lot of people jumped on the malapropism about the Constitution, but I say look at the next part also — he’s going to small towns in Pennsylvania and (emphasis added) “I am going to tell them that they have faith and they have trust and support the Constitution of the United States because they have optimism and hope and that is the strength of America.” These are people he’s never in his life lived among, but he’s going to tell them what they think? Does anyone beside me think that’s weird?

Shortly after Obama was slammed for the bitter remark I wrote a post called “Elitism for Elites” that most of the people in media screeching about “elitism” were, in fact, elites who had never in their lives enjoyed the true small-town white experience. Yet they stepped all over themselves rushing to a microphone to speak for small-town white folks everywhere.

And then Bill Kristol said,

He’s [Obama] disdainful of small-town America — one might say, of bourgeois America.

Either Kristol doesn’t know what bourgeois means, or else someone ought to take Kristol on a cultural tour of small-town white America.

Karl Rove’s recent attempt to paint Barack Obama as some kind of country club snot was just lame, IMO. But after years of being Mr. Insider does Karl not notice that he’s, um, an elite?

Right wingers assume they have a copyright on religion, whether they personally are religious or not, and on all matters military, whether they personally have served or not. They also assume they cannot be elites, no matter how powerful and privileged they are. Sort of out of touch with themselves, I would say.

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12 Comments

11 Comments

  1. erinyes  •  Jun 26, 2008 @6:46 pm

    Good post Maha.
    I saw a bumper sticker in Tampa today which read “Bin Laden is a Democrat”.
    The Right is unhinged.

  2. paradoctor  •  Jun 26, 2008 @6:46 pm

    How curious; an elite unaware of its own elitism. It’s common for elites to become intellectually decadent, but this level of basic cluelessness is unusual. It suggests that we’re dealing with a short-lived dynasty.

    The challenge to the other 99% of us is how to leverage their self-ignorance to our self-empowerment.

  3. moonbat  •  Jun 26, 2008 @9:57 pm

    It’s not really a propos, but I’m reminded of a cute colloquialism from Mark Twain, “King Looie and his Dolphin”. I’m sure this would be completely lost our our own Dauphin.

  4. biggerbox  •  Jun 26, 2008 @11:02 pm

    I’ve often speculated about Shrub’s complex psychological relationship with his own elitism. Obviously, as the son of a man whith GHWBush’s resume, and as the grandson of Prescott Bush and great-grandson of George Herbert Walker, he’s as socially elite as American makes ‘em. But, he didn’t get into the Houston prep school one would have expected, and eventually went away to Daddy’s schools. So, simultaneously upper-crust and yet not superior enough, except in his own mind. That petulance of his goes deep.

    I suspect the Texas accent is a way to ‘prove’ to himself that he’s in some way better than those preppies who laughed at him. It’s interesting listening to video of him when he ran for Congress – he didn’t sound anywhere near so “aw, shucks”. He’s dialed it up as President. (It can’t all be the alcoholic brain damage. ;-/ )

  5. Swami  •  Jun 26, 2008 @11:22 pm

    Right wingers assume they have a copyright on religion

    Yeah, and Dobson the relentless Right wing Christian homophobe accuses Obama of distorting the bible because he posed a rhetorical question about which passages in Leviticus should be incorporated into our public policy. I’m amazed that anybody would make such a ridiculous accusation, like Dobson did, unless they either knew they were addressing an audience of simpletons,or are a simpleton them self.

  6. BruceH  •  Jun 27, 2008 @1:11 am

    When he was governor, I don’t remember him speaking with such a deep accent. See, that sort of thing doesn’t fly all that well down here unless you really do speak that way. Of course, then he ran for president. Then it didn’t matter how thick he laid it on, the yokels down here were like, “That’s our boy!”

    And to top that off, it played well in Peoria, as they say.

    For the record, I voted against him in every single election I had opportunity to.

  7. Jeff Darcy  •  Jun 30, 2008 @8:16 pm

    Over the years, I’ve become rather fond of pointing out that elitism comes in many flavors, and that every instance of left-wing intellectual elitism is more than matched by several instances of right-wing moral elitism. Is there any right-wing pundit who isn’t absolutely certain that they’re more moral, more patriotic, more authentic than any liberal could ever be? Doesn’t seem like it. Yes, some people might get sneered at for not knowing chardonnay from shiraz, but just as many get sneered at for not knowing the difference between beers, barbecue sauces, or NASCAR drivers. Those good ole boys are just as far up themselves as the ivy leaguers, just in different ways.

  8. Loren Davis  •  Jul 1, 2008 @6:10 am

    Hi. Long-term lurker, first-time poster.

    Like many here, I yield to no one in my principled, loyal opposition to George Bush and his policies. Even so, you were unfair to him as a person when you wrote, “I’ve also long been curious about the Texas accent, since he appears to be the only member of his family who has one.” I hope you have an open mind about this.

    Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I assume you meant: other than his wife and daughters. That leaves, among his close relatives, a sister who died of leukemia, his brother Jeb, his brother Neil, his sister Doro (who introduces herself around 2:30), and his brother, Marvin, who stays out of the spotlight these days now that some of the 9/11 Truthers fixated on him, but who did appear on Larry King Live on August 3, 2004. His parents, who moved to Texas in adulthood, sound different, it’s true. We don’t sound like our parents, though. We sound like our playmates. Do George and Laura’s daughters sound much like them?

    As for the question of whether he developed the accent before or after his parents sent him to an East Coast boarding school, I’d say, almost certainly before, since (according to this Boston Globe article from 1999) he lived in Texas from when he was two to when he was fifteen, and even then, his roommate was another Texan. (One thing I did not know: Bush admits that he “learned to read and write” only in his late teens.)

    All that aside, how do you (much less someone who can’t pronounce even simple sentences correctly) flawlessly adopt an accent for decades without it becoming natural to you? Not to pick on him, but have you listened carefully to Paul McCartney forty years ago and today?

    Yet, you seemingly believe that, if he ever lost his temper in public and got so flustered he couldn’t even form complete sentences, which has never happened to him in his life, his “real accent” that he’s been hiding his entire public life would slip out and he would sound like his parents for the first time? Seriously? Be fair to the man, please: there’s no way he could be faking an accent.

  9. maha  •  Jul 1, 2008 @6:57 am

    Loren — you have entirely missed the point, which is that George Bush obviously is a spoiled and highly privileged elitist who for years has affected the persona of a regular good-ol-Texas-boy guy.

    The accent is not the point; it’s just a symptom.

    I’m sure after all these years his accent is the way he speaks all the time, but I’m saying he chose to cultivate that accent some time in the distant past.

    People can choose their accents. I grew up in a fairly rural part of the Ozark mountains. My dad spoke in an Ozark mountain dialect almost exclusively, and my Ma spoke standard English. I grew up speaking standard English. I can sound more “hillbilly” when I choose to, but my natural accent might be called generic Midwestern.

    Neither of Bush’s parents ever had a Texas accent, and his brother Jeb manages not to have one, yet George lays it on fairly thick. I’m saying this is an affectation. He probably does speak that way all the time now, but still he chose the accent. It didn’t choose him.

  10. Loren Davis  •  Jul 1, 2008 @9:39 am

    All right. I believe you when you say that I misunderstood your point. I assume that I still must be misunderstanding it, because now it doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

    You now seem to be complaining that George W. Bush did something that everybody, including you, does. I can’t help but doubt that you’d hold to the same standard John Edwards, who lays the accent on just as thick. Much less Barack Obama, whose oratorical style is very openly a cultivated skill which he’s improved over the years, who today sounds even less like his parents, grandparents or half-sister than Bush does his family, and who agonized so deeply and consciously about his identity that he wrote a book about it?

    All three of them identify themselves with some humble group of people. All three of them have adopted certain conscious mannerisms to present themselves that way. All three of them thought it would help them become President. Your real objection seems to be that Edwards and Obama mostly agree with you on economic policy, while Bush supports policies that you (and I) believe harm the poor. Elitism is not the word for that, I think. You certainly don’t think your opponents justified in calling Edwards or Obama “elitist” when they use similarly-affected language to appeal to the poor and advocate policies that conservatives believe will harm everyone, including the poor. (Granted, many Republicans are accusing Obama of being everything and its opposite these days, and there’s probably not much anyone can do to reach them.)

    Most of all, I don’t understand what makes their choices sympathetic, and George Bush’s worthy only of contempt. Suppose that your suspicions are right and that Bush did choose, at fifteen, the rural Texas he grew up in over the patrician New England his father wanted him to imitate, that he’s still overdoing it today, and that he’s been doing it so long now with so little self-awareness that he probably can’t stop. I still don’t understand how that would be a sign of elitism. It seems to me as if it would reflect a different set of problems entirely.

    As for Jeb Bush, he (like you) can switch between accents, or even into fluent Spanish. I’d be surprised if his brother George could do any of that. I don’t think that makes one or the other of them more elitist; I think that means Jeb has much higher verbal intelligence. It’s one of the things that makes George a terrible president, but I don’t see it as a moral failing. His administration would be as horrible if he sounded just like his father.

  11. maha  •  Jul 1, 2008 @10:14 am

    Loren, I understand that you are simpleminded, so I will use short words and explain this very simply.

    Since you don’t understand “affectation,” I will use the word “phony.” Is that one clear? OK, I will define it, because you are exceedingly dense. A “phony” is someone who pretends to be something he isn’t. I am saying George Bush is a phony, because he pretends to be something he isn’t.

    George Bush by temperament, by upbringing, by his entire life experience, is a spoiled rich kid who divides everyone else around him into two categories — “peers” and “the help.” He pretends to be simple and humble, yet he is among the most authoritarian, secretive, and ego-driven men ever to occupy the White House.

    However, by his affected phony behaviors, which include but are by no means limited to the accent, he managed to come across as a regular guy to a lot of voters.

    However, by any definition of the word, he is an elitist.

    My point about the accent, which you fixate on because you can’t see forests for trees, is that he chose to affect an accent as part of his phoniness. Few not-phony people with his familial and educational background would lay it on as thick as he does.

    However, the accent is just a symptom, not the disease. BY ITSELF it is no big deal. If his only character flaw was that he puts on an act with the accent, it wouldn’t be worth commenting on. A lot of politicians lay it on thick sometimes.

    I brought it up only because it is one little indicator of the grossly phony persona he has wrapped around himself.

    I have no further time to discuss this. See comment policy about discussions being over when I say they are over. This one’s over.

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