Politics & Media
Feb 22, 2024, 06:29AM

We Are the Elite

No time for “ordinary” and “regular” Americans.

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One of the words, because of overuse in the past decade, that’s now largely devoid of meaning is “elite.” It’s tossed around, shamelessly, mostly by conservative commentators, as a derogatory description of affluent and well-educated Democrats who piss on those who either have opposing political views or are too stupid to understand that the federal government is working tirelessly to help the “lunch-bucket” class that doesn’t grasp of the concept of “democracy” and “climate change.” I won’t squabble that the condescension from the “elite” in Washington is noxious—and easily avoided if you glide past the instructions provided by the largely liberal media—but the generalization is offensive, just as Hillary Clinton’s self-damaging reference to “deplorables” was in 2016.

I recently read a mostly worthless article by Michael Barone, a 79-year-old conservative columnist and author (although he backed George McGovern in 1972; youth!), headlined “America’s Dysfunctional Overclass,” which relied on two surveys by pollster Scott Rasmussen—who claims he’s non-partisan, which is met by guffaws—about “elite people.” Barone begins: “What does America’s overclass think of the rest of us? The short answer is ‘not much.’ They think ordinary people’s splurging on natural resources is destroying the planet and needs to be cut back forcefully. And that the government needs to stamp down on ordinary people enjoying luxuries that, in their view, should be reserved for the top elites.”

It’s not insignificant that Barone used the word “ordinary” twice in that opening, in addition to “the rest of us.” I don’t necessarily disagree with Barone—when I used to watch cable political talk shows, he was, in contrast to say, Chris Matthews, calm and occasionally eloquent—but his hypocrisy makes him suspect. Barone doesn’t note—as he might have, years ago when “personal disclosure” was a “rule” of what passed for reasonable journalism—that he’s a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, a very well-compensated author and syndicated columnist, who’s hardly representative of “the rest of us.” All it would’ve required was a short parenthetical remark that he also attended the Ivy League schools that he’s bashing. When Barone, apparently on auto-pilot, uses the word “ordinary” repeatedly in the short article, aping the insulting language New York Times reporters and pundits bandy about every day, he’s no different from the “elite” media. Barone wouldn’t describe himself as “ordinary”—and what does that mean precisely; I don’t think anyone is “ordinary,” but rather individuals who lead, for better or worse, disparate lives—and as a result his tone comes across as an example of “America’s overclass.”

As noted above, when so many people are described as “elite,” what does the word mean? It’s subjective, and here are some of my scattershot examples: Shohei Ohtani, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax; Stanley Kubrick and Charlie Chaplin; Eddie Jacobs; Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday; Benjamin Franklin and Calvin Coolidge; Jonas Salk; the Berrigan Brothers; James Rouse; Robert Bartley, Andrey Slivka, Robert Nadeau and Dan Wolf; Dylan Thomas, Paul Murray and Tom Wolfe; and Eugene McCarthy and Jerry Brown.

Barone would characterize longtime political consultant Stuart Stevens—he was a key strategist for Mitt Romney’s lackluster 2012 presidential campaign and later, in his Never Trump incarnation joined the sketchy Lincoln Project—as part of “America’s Overclass” But why? Judging by his recent article in The New Republic—at one time, an engaging, if not “elite,” magazine that’s now gone to the dogs—his mind is filled with four-days-old lumpy gravy.

Stevens says: “There’s not much I admire about the modern Republican Party [2012 isn’t modern?] and continues with blather about Joe Biden—no mention of age or Robert K. Hur—that might make Dr. Jill blush (that’s possible, even for today’s Edith Wilson). He writes: “Joe Biden should remain president because of his historic level of achievement [he includes “student loan forgiveness,” one of Biden’s biggest blunders] here at home while standing on the side of freedom versus tyranny in the largest land war in Europe since World War II, a role no American president has played since the Roosevelt-Truman era. Be bold. Walk into this campaign with swagger and confidence and pride.”

This is the mirror-side of the “Trump cult.” My guess is that Stevens and Bill Kristol—co-founder of the once-great Weekly Standard and aide to Dan Quayle—among many others (Max Boot and David Frum and similar neocons) believe they’re atoning for past political sins; their exuberance comes off like a person who’s been “born again” and proselytizes to sinners, or reformed tobacco addicts who ostentatiously wave away the smoke from a person’s cigarette in the park.

The delightful author/columnist Joseph Epstein (87) recently wrote about Biden’s mental condition—this was before President Sippy Cup was named the 14th best president by a besotted group of social scientists—in The Wall Street Journal that wasn’t at all catty, but given his own age and admission of memory stumbles, nominally sympathetic. And correct. Epstein: “Not age but mind is the president’s problem. With the world’s seas so choppy, Mr. Biden’s mind isn’t one anyone would want at helm of our ship of state. The problem with Donald Trump… isn’t memory but tact, want of culture, generosity of spirit. These flaws haven’t come with age. They seem to have been with Mr. Trump all his days.”

I’ve no clue about Epstein’s vote this November, but his implied “they’re both unfit” conclusion represents a common view held by Americans today. None of the bullshit that Barone and Stevens peddle.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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