I'm sure everyone's tired of hearing about this. But there's another aspect of this elitism business which is strange.
Americans are an aspirational people, or so I'm told. Both ideological camps seem to believe this. The stereotype of the conservative position would be that everyone is capable of becoming rich, and inevitably will, if they are hard working. Everyone in this conception desires personal wealth, and that desire is seen as among the highest virtues. The stereotype of the liberal position is that Americans routinely root against their own economic best interests, because they believe they will someday be rich. Sort of the What's the Matter with Kansas argument and one that, actually, I largely endorse.
(I used to do this experiment, in college classes where we talked about politics a lot. I would ask everyone in the class if they though that someday, they would be rich. Not if they wanted to be, but if they expected that they would someday be wealthy. Inevitably, at least nine out of the ten people in the class would raise their hands, and in talking with them privately most were quite certain that it was just a matter of time. I would then ask who in the class thought it was the case that everyone who had just raised their hands would actually become rich. No one would ever raise their hands, which I think is interesting.)
Most people seem to agree then that Americans want to be rich, and that is sensible and fits basic human psychology. So here's my question: why, then, the contempt for elites? Isn't the point of gaining wealth, after all, to become one of the elite? I'm thinking that someone has to watch all of those shows on VH1 and E!, the luxury porn where we see how much better the leisure class lives. Do those people have this disdain for elitism? I know that those shows work on a combination of envy and resentment. But surely, an aspirational people can't have such basic contempt for the people they aspire to be.
I'm sure some would say that there is a difference between economic elitism and cultural elitism. But I find that weird too. It's profoundly strange, to me, that the most powerful and important kind of elitism, the elitism of wealth, is somehow excused from the pernicious elitisms certain elements in our country hate so much. John McCain is not just wealthy, he is profoundly, massively wealthy. Now I'm not socialist enough to begrudge him his wealth, but when his campaign turns around and accuses Barack Obama of elitism, when John McCain (for example) spends more than $200,000 a year just on servants... attention must be paid.
As for Ericka Andersen... what can be said about a simple appeal to the idea that I and those I love are not real Americans, that our culture is not real American culture? I tend to think that the bounds of "my culture", if we insist on rending our country into broad camps, extends further than the New York and Los Angeles that Andersen invokes here. But okay, let her have it her own way. I would hasten to inform her that those two cities have more people than 44 states in our nation, and if we include greater metropolitan areas, they have more people than every state but California, the most populous.
I've tried and I'm trying to stay out of this mess, but it stings to see someone so quickly and effortlessly excise countless millions from the "real" America, it really does. My maternal grandfather lied about his age to join the Army and fight the Germans, and he fought them with distinction. He worked his whole life, and raised two daughters, and was every inch the stoic Army man his entire life, unflagging and uncomplaining. And he was a Democrat, and a liberal. I wonder what he would say to see his grandson outcast from the foundation of our country, from real America, from real American culture.
Am I an American?