Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Elite Is Us

Kevin Drum finds himself agreeing with Peggy Noonan when she writes:
The country I was born into was a country that had existed steadily, for almost two centuries, as a nation in which everyone thought — wherever they were from, whatever their circumstances — that their children would have better lives than they did....Parents now fear something has stopped....They look around, follow the political stories and debates, and deep down they think their children will live in a more limited country, that jobs won't be made at a great enough pace, that taxes — too many people in the cart, not enough pulling it — will dishearten them, that the effects of 30 years of a low, sad culture will leave the whole country messed up.
Of course, his reasons are different:
It's not high taxes (which are lower than any time in recent history) or social changes (which have been overwhelmingly positive) that bother me, it's the fact that we increasingly seem to be led by a social elite that's simply lost interest in the good of the country. They were wealthy 30 years ago, they've gotten incomparably more wealthy since then, and yet they seem to care about little except amassing ever more wealth and endlessly scheming to reduce their tax burdens further.  Shipping off our kids on a growing succession of costly foreign adventures is OK, but funding healthcare or unemployment benefits or economic stimulus in the midst of a world-historical recession is beyond the pale.
Drum makes a mistake here that is all too common.  While things have gotten much worse and government policies are failing dramatically, the blame for it does not lie with a social elite.  Sure, one exists, but whether or not it has the best interests of the country at heart is irrelevant and probably unknowable.  The blame lies with the vast numbers of Americans who support the policies that have lead us here.  They have elected the state and local leaders who have pushed for war, opposed funding healthcare, unemployment benefits and stimulus.

Now, one could argue that they are all mindless followers of the propaganda that a social elite delivers.  And this is surely true to a degree.  But it's not a very serious argument.  What we are talking about here is a radical conservative movement that has been building for decades.  It takes two to tango and there is something within the conservative philosophy itself that they are responding to.  To simply say that this large number of Americans bears no responsibility for their beliefs is nonsense.  Whatever propaganda they are digesting works because it rings true for them.  It makes connections deep within their religious and social values and norms.  If we are to truly understand this current of conservative anger and social nihilism that is tearing the country apart, we must start by looking not at some conspiratorial elite, but at our friends and neighbors.


  1. Well said, SV. No matter who is right or wrong, on the ideological level, large swaths of the population have consistently responded to appeals to fear over the past thirty years. Whenever the bogeymen provided from the right have successfully menaced these folks in their supposed religious,economic,social or physical safety, the other "folks" at the pinnacle of the imperial pyramid have concentrated their hold on the wealth and power of our nation.
    Until those who oppose the latter are able to reach the hearts and minds of many of the former, we will continue to tread water from ten feet down.
    El Sereno

  2. That's very interesting. Are the social elite's intentions unknowable because of their power? Is it something simply about being a part of the social elite that makes their will unknowable, or is it more America's current configurations of social hierarchy that make this especially the case? . . . Or is it something different all together?

  3. Well, my point was that there isn't so much a social elite as sort of broad historical trends. I mean, politics and ideologies shift. There are some actors more influential than others - FOX news or say, Michael Moore, or Washington lobbyists and policy specialists come to mind. But who is really to say? There are a million different forces operating throughout society, pushing and pulling on us all.

    I think it is a mistake to ever underestimate just how responsible we all our for our beliefs, whether its talking to friends and family, our neighbors or co-workers. We elect these people. There are liberals. There are conservatives with very principled perspectives. It makes it difficult when we want to find someone to blame, but there it is.