Recently the news media have concentrated their coverage on the needs, opinions and voting patterns of “lunch bucket” Democrats – a term the media use to condescendingly describe lower middle class older voters without college degrees. This voting block has also been the focus of endless pandering by Senators McCain and Clinton. Being able to bowl and slug back a shot and a beer seem to get more coverage than the number of American troops who died in April (the number is 52 in case you are interested).
Chris Matthews of “Hardball” on MSNBC lauded Senator Clinton at her prowess in re-inventing herself as a girl from Scranton with a GED as if that gave her higher credibility as a presidential candidate than her true pedigree- middle class Park Ridge Illinois, Wellsley and Yale Law. By the way-Matthews likes to view himself as a blue collar “regular guy” even though he attended a private high school, the elite Holy Cross College in Boston and, after a stint in the Peace Corps did graduate work at UNC Chapel Hill.
I obviously would be thrown into the elite pile by the media (by the way- most of the media, like Matthews, are elite too). I come from a privileged background, I have a private school and Ivy League education, I read books and publications like “The New Yorker”, “The Nation”, The New Republic” and “The New York Times”, I watch news shows like “Meet the Press” and I have worked for years in public policy- focused on health care access and public health planning. What all of that translates into is that I am informed. And I don’t turn off the Republican debates or Bush speeches- I listen to the other side as well. I like to think that I can think!
But during this election cycle I feel more annoyed than usual about the elite label. Elite is never used with Conservative, although it is ironic that most of the wealthy and social elite in this country are Republicans who have a stake in policies and laws that protect their wealth and protects the growth of that wealth. Elite is always used with Liberals- people who feel that government has a roll to play in helping lift up the least of us; believe that there is a social contract at play where we all are responsible for the welfare of our fellow citizens; and support labor unions and the needs of average working people. I find that the height of irony. But there is a greater myth that I want to address.
Elite is often interchanged with alliterative labels like “Latte Liberals” and “Limousine Liberals”. These monikers conjure an image promoted by those on the right- that there are a bunch of out of touch wealthy people who condescendingly “know what’s best”.
They are really trying to say that the elite are people who are wealthier than you and have an educated smugness that is arrogant and are people to whom the “average” American cannot relate. Suddenly education and intelligence are bad things. I thought the average American aspired to have their children go to college and do better and I thought we wanted to give the message that education is a good thing.
Let’s assume that the “elite” are informed and educated – an assumption on which most of those who deride the “elite” agree. What on earth is wrong with educated and informed people? What is wrong with an electorate engaged in the issues rather than campaign imagery? What is wrong with people who don’t swallow sound bites and talking points whole cloth from either the White House or the Speaker of the House? Quite frankly – I want a president who is the smartest person in the room, someone much smarter than me, someone who has encyclopedic knowledge and who is capable of strong nuanced thinking. Do I want a president who is educated and smart, ergo “elite”? Damn straight!
But there is a something else attached to this “elite” myth. It makes it sound like those of us with good educations and hold liberal views are living in ivory towers or at least in gated communities. Not true.
Again- I use myself as an example. Cornell and Harvard educated- I spent the last part of my career in the non-profit sector working on issues I care about. My partner also works for a non-profit doing direct service with adults living with developmental disabilities. Folks working for non-profits are not known for making buckets of money. We both share “liberal” ideologies, we both read newspapers, listen to debates, and we both have good minds and good hearts. But we aren’t wealthy – we are in the middle class and our combined income is NOT in the 6 figure range. I am on a fixed income having been disabled with AIDS and Hepatitis C for nine years. We live on a budget and we are affected by higher prices on groceries and I am always worried about the vagaries of health care – its cost and quality. Presently I have good coverage- but given the precariousness of health coverage- that could change. If I lost coverage I would not be able to pay the nearly $12,000 per month that my medications cost on average. We occasionally indulge ourselves- but we travel less and we dine out less. Our lives are quiet, domestic and we struggle to decrease debt and stay a step ahead. Is that elite? I don’t consider myself elite; our lives sound like the majority of people in this country. I consider myself middle class with a good education.
So I ask the question, what’s wrong with smart people? Why are we derided as out of touch and our thoughts dismissed? If being educated means being dismissed by the nation then why do we view education as important? On the other hand if the people of this country believed strongly in education, we would invest more in education. But that would cost us more money and therefore taxes would be higher. Now I get it! Educated people are elite because educating us raises your taxes.