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July 19, 2010

Janet Daley, VDH On the Class War

VDH:

How would we characterize the new aristocracy? In a number of ways.

1) Untruth. One requisite to being a cultural elite, unfortunately, is a certain allegiance to untruth, to saying one thing and doing another. Consider the manifestations of falsity from ecology to race. Often exempt from worry over a weekly check, and distanced from the mechanics of how things work, the elite clamors for a green cap-and-trade revolution. It rejects compromise with a fossil fuel near future that would transition us in a half-century or so to renewable energy.

That said, it is hard to find cultural elites who live green lives. Most use their money at times to fly on jets or boat (like the president this weekend). As in the manner of the tastes of a John Edwards or Al Gore, the bigger and more impressive the home, the better to contemplate how lesser others use too much carbon-based power. Usually green sacrifice is to be made by coal miners, oil drillers, and timber men of politically incorrect industries — the distant horny-handed classes whose unmentioned work brings us instant convenience.

On matters racial, it gets complicated since advocacy is one thing, living another. The cultural elite use “pull” to get their kids into college, money to live in a “good” neighborhood, and “networking” to marry and “place” like others from a good background. All that remains unspoken and rarely articulated. Why so? Because otherwise the logical ramifications of such a liberal belief system would be to live in the San Jose or Fresno mixed suburbs, to have their children school with the “other” at Cal State Stanislaus or Indiana State, and to marry their children to Rick Lopez or Tyrone Hiller to encourage “diversity.”

In short, money, privilege, and status create in the cultural elite both a fear of mixing it up with others that might jeopardize position and placement, and yet guilt for that very sense of entitlement and exemption. All that, in turn, only heightens the shrill and sanctimonious rhetorical demands on less blessed others to prove their morality.

Barack Obama was a genius in recognizing all this, and at a very early age no less. The subtext of Dreams from My Father, and indeed Obama’s life from 18 to 45, was to allay elite fears, guilt, and suspicions. And by proving to be a calm, charismatic, minority wannabe fellow elite — who could ipso facto offer instant penance for rather isolated and shamed cultural elite s— Obama in return grasped that the rules simply would not apply to him (elites having few real unchanging principles and values): graduate admission without commensurate grades and test scores (their release to the public could in theory prove my hypothesis wrong), law review without a paper trail, teaching and offers of tenure at law schools without normal publication, community organizing without worry of tangible results, running for office without repercussions from tawdry attacks ranging from suing to invalidate petitions to leaking divorce records.

Daley:

What is more startling is the growth in America of precisely the sort of political alignment which we have known for many years in Britain: an electoral alliance of the educated, self-consciously (or self-deceivingly, depending on your point of view) "enlightened" class with the poor and deprived. America, in other words, has discovered bourgeois guilt. A country without a hereditary nobility has embraced noblesse oblige. Now, there is nothing inherently strange or perverse about people who lead successful, secure lives feeling a sense of responsibility toward those who are disadvantaged. What is peculiar in American terms is that this sentiment is taking on precisely the pseudo-aristocratic tone of disdain for the aspiring, struggling middle class that is such a familiar part of the British scene.

Liberal politics is now – over there as much as here – a form of social snobbery. To express concern about mass immigration, or reservations about the Obama healthcare plan, is unacceptable in bien-pensant circles because this is simply not the way educated people are supposed to think. It follows that those who do think (and talk) this way are small-minded bigots, rednecks, oiks, or whatever your local code word is for "not the right sort".

The petit bourgeois virtues of thrift, ambition and self-reliance – which are essential for anyone attempting to escape from poverty under his own steam – have long been derided in Britain as tokens of a downmarket upbringing. But not long ago in America they were considered, even among the highly educated, to be the quintessential national virtues, because even well-off professionals had probably had parents or grandparents who were once penniless immigrants. Nobody dismissed "ambition" as a form of gaucherie: the opposite of having ambition was being a bum, a good-for-nothing who would waste the opportunities that the new country offered for self-improvement.

But now the British Lefties who – like so many Jane Austen heroines looking down on those "in trade" – used to dismiss Margaret Thatcher as "a grocer's daughter", have their counterparts in the US, where virtually everybody's family started poor. Our "white van man" is their Tea Party activist, and the insult war is getting very vicious. It is becoming commonplace now for liberals in the US to label the Tea Party movement as racist, the most damaging insult of all in respectable American life.

Just to prove the point, here's the New York Times:

The question of racism in the amorphous Tea Party movement is, of course, a serious one, since so much of the Republican Party seems to be in the thrall of its activists. There have been scattered reports around the country of racially charged rhetoric within the movement, most notably just before the vote on the new health care law last March, when Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, the legendary civil rights leader, was showered with hateful epithets outside the Capitol.

Andrew Breitbart just emailed to say "You can go to hell."

But the insidious presence of racism within some quarters of the movement — or, maybe more accurately in some cases, an utter indifference toward racial sensitivities — shouldn’t really surprise anyone. That’s not necessarily because a subset of these antigovernment ideologues are racist, per se, but in part because they are just plain old....

This does not mean that there aren’t hateful 25-year-olds coming to Tea Party rallies and letting fly racial slurs. What it does mean is that a sizable percentage of the Tea Party types were born into a segregated America, many of them in the South or in the new working-class suburbs of the North, and lived through the marches and riots that punctuated the cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s. Their racial attitudes, like their philosophies of governance, reflect their complicated journeys. (This is true for a lot of older, urban Democrats, too, who consider themselves liberal but whose racial commentary causes their grandchildren to recoil.)


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