Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hating Mainstream

This Charles Murray column about the "New Elite" is quite dreadful:

The tea party appears to be of one mind on at least one thing: America has been taken over by a New Elite.

"On one side, we have the elites," Fox News host Glenn Beck explained last month, "and the other side, we have the regular people." The elites are "no longer in touch with what the country is really thinking," Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle complained this summer. And when Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell recently began a campaign ad by saying, "I didn't go to Yale," she could be confident that her supporters would approve....


...What sets the tea party apart from other observers of the New Elite is its hostility, rooted in the charge that elites are isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans.

Let me propose that those allegations have merit.

Murray then goes on to give his definition of the New Elite, which is basically upper-crust Ivy Leaguers that come from and stay and marry within a high-income bracket, working in technocratic fields and having nothing in common with "ordinary people" because they don't know a bunch of white rural trivia, like who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price is Right."

This is all so much unnecessary work. We already have a working definition of an elite:

"Anyone thinks they're better than anyone else." That lives in Washington. And New York. It's elegant in its simplicity, like a four-letter word.

Murray also does the reader the courtesy of providing a quiz to discern if one is a mainstream American:

If you can answer "yes" for 0-2 questions, you're sealed in the New Elite bubble. If you can answer "yes" for 3-7 questions, you need to get out more. If you can answer "yes" for 8-10 questions, it doesn't matter if you went to Yale or live in Georgetown. You're part of the American mainstream.

"American mainstream" here, of course, is code for rural white conservative Christians. One can find the Platonic ideal of this concept by considering the Tea Party's adoration of the buffoonish and manifestly unqualified Sarah Palin: proudly ignorant, contemptuous of nuance, militantly Christian. Also, the most unpopular political figure in the country.

To the extent there is such a thing as a mainstream, the conservative movement often wants nothing to do with it. Consider our pop culture, which conservative Christianity despises even as it seeks to emulate it. Or popular websites, of which they have created several alternatives. Conservative Christians don't consider Jon Stewart the most trusted man in America, and they consider the second most popular American political figure, Barack Obama, to be Hitler, the Antichrist, the Angel of Death, and more besides. These, to say the least, are not mainstream viewpoints.

It's all a framing game that easily excludes an egghead like Murray, which makes his shilling on their behalf especially rich. Conservatives have railed against liberal masochism, but I think in these times a look at the conservative version is in order. They seem to have a variant for everything else.

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