Snapshots of relevance, Part III

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008 @ 11:08 pm | Barack Obama, Election crap

Hating Newsweek’s cover this week, but the essay within demolishes the madness about “elitism,” both through historical examples of presidents past who served the people fine while having some aristocratic airs, namely FDR, and Obama’s own personal history:

He was raised by a single parent, his mother, who lived on food stamps for a time. He graduated from an Ivy League college—Columbia—but worked as a low-paid community organizer in Chicago. After Harvard Law, he turned down the high-pay, high-prestige jobs in corporate-law firms to work in a small civil-rights firm, mostly on voting-rights cases. He talks about his experiences helping the poor in the shadows of shuttered steel plants in Chicago. “Politics didn’t lead me to working folks,” he says, “working folks led me to politics.” His wife, Michelle, is more emphatic. “I am a product of a working-class background,” she says. “I am one of those folks who grew up in that struggle. That is the lens through which I see the world.” (A close read of her Princeton thesis suggests where her heart lay even after four years in the Ivy League: the paper is a paean to staying in touch with her black working-class roots.) “So,” Michelle recently told a high-school audience in Evansville, Ind., “when people talk about this elitist stuff, I say, ‘You couldn’t possibly know anything about me’.”

Obama’s chief campaign adviser, David Axelrod, bridles at the elitist charge: “In terms of his personal habits, this is a guy who is an ESPN sports fanatic, who plays basketball for relaxation. When he’s out and about, he’s more solicitous of the people around him, the people on the street and the kitchen workers and the police officers than almost any politician I have known. Anybody who advances the argument that he’s an elitist simply doesn’t know the guy. It’s generally the elite who advance the argument.”



10 Responses to “Snapshots of relevance, Part III”

  1. Thomas Tallis Says:

    Look man, nobody but nobody hates the “you’re elitist if you speak in full sentences” garbage more than I do, but:

    (A close read of her Princeton thesis suggests where her heart lay even after four years in the Ivy League: the paper is a paean to staying in touch with her black working-class roots.)

    Gotta note here that it’s her Princeton thesis we’re talking about here. One can try and stay as connected to one’s working-class roots as one likes, but once you’re attending Princeton, there’s a undeniable degree of separation. Most working class people have neither the luxury of nor the time to write a “paean to staying in touch with [their] working class roots,” you dig? The best response to an elitist charge is not to argue “I’m actually still working class” if you aren’t. This is also why Clinton’s Pennsylvania and Indiana down-with-the-folks jaunts were so distasteful and shameful.

    Not tryna be all confrontational yo, just saying that the best counter to this garbage isn’t “in fact, they’re just folks.” ‘Cause they’re not, no matter how their origins read; they’re of the political class now, and that isn’t the working class, period ever.

  2. jeromy Says:

    Well, what I left out previous to that quote was Obama’s admission that they are now, at this point in their lives, definitely advantaged compared to others. I don’t see him laboring under any delusions or trying to create a false impression.

    At that point in Michelle’s life, however, she was still skating through on scholarships and loans, and Princeton hadn’t exactly been very warm and receptive to her. Staying in touch with her roots was pretty damn easy in that context, and of course the career choices of the Obamas after school clearly point towards a populist sensibility rather than elitist.

    Of course, this is all pretty Rovian. Politicians who embrace the elite and policies that favor them seem to get credit for consistency, while those who express any concern for those less well off are invariably attacked for possessing any wealth at all.

  3. Thomas Tallis Says:

    I don’t know that it’s “Rovian” to remind people that while they want the votes of the people to whose class they no longer actually belong, they don’t really have a moral right to regard those votes as theirs by virtue of shared class – class is a real issue, and when a candidate wants to put it in play, it’s fair to hold their feet to the fire about it. “Princeton not being receptive” is still a whole planet away from “not at Princeton.”

    Not saying dude wants to “create a false impression,” or no more so than all other candidates ever: “I’m a man of the people” is one of the oldest political arrows in the quarry, and I’m always in favor of letting the air out of it. Bear in mind that it’s along a continuum – little was more aggravating to me than Bush getting by as “somebody you’d wanna have a beer with” when the only beers that guy’s ever downed were at New England country clubs, out of crystal goblets brought to him by servants whose names he didn’t know.

  4. jeromy Says:

    Well, I was being more general about the whole fact that this is a “controversy,” and that politicians who advocate for working class folks are the only ones who get tagged “elitist.” Of course, your point still stands that one shouldn’t front.

    But I’d say what was remarkable about Bush’s “have a beer with” advantage was that it was a standard unsurprisingly easy for a former alcoholic to meet. The results of electing Bush should have put to rest this question as a gold standard for who should be president…

  5. Dana Says:

    It’s been said that you can live in the South all your life, but spend six months at Harvard and you’ll have a Harvard accent for the rest of your life.

    Snooty is as snooty does, and “elitism” is as elitism does; these characterizations wouldn’t be making any impact if there wasn’t something out there which makes them believable. That Hillary Clinton, of all people, could come across to Democratic primary voters as the candidate of the working class, kind of says something.

  6. Dana Says:

    Jeromy wrote:

    The results of electing Bush should have put to rest this question as a gold standard for who should be president…

    Yes, it certainly does: we got a good president out of it, one who fought back against the Muslims and cut our raxes — which is exactly the kind of president I want!

  7. Dana Says:

    — err, taxes, not raxes.

  8. jeromy Says:

    Dana: yeah, if we could just elect Barney from the Simpsons I’m sure he’d ramp up the war against “the Muslims.” And if you think putting expenses on the national credit card and passing the bill to your grandkids is responsible, well, you might be drunk too.

  9. Thomas Tallis Says:

    give me a president who keeps the economy out of the toilet over one who makes feel-good tax cuts any day – I’ve said it before: if you care about the economy, elect a Democrat, and if you care about getting a check for five hundred dollars, elect a Republican

  10. Nate W Says:

    Wealthy, Ivy League Republican candidate = one of the boys.
    Wealthy, Ivy League Democratic candidate = elitist.