4/16/2008

Lamentations of an Educated Voter: About Those "Elitists"

The ongoing controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his "elitist" remarks has struck a chord with me. It's not because I'm offended by his remarks. And it's not because some rural voters are offended by his remarks. It's the fact that the people who are complaining the loudest about these "elitist" remarks are "elitists" themselves.

Every election cycle it seems that politicians trip over themselves in their attempts to appear like regular people. They create campaign commercials showing them driving tractors, wearing blue jeans, clearing brush, and and fixing their trucks. They pose for shots of them chatting with the locals at bowling alleys, eating greasy hamburgers at state fairs, checking out the watermelons at farmers' markets, and having productive conversations with residents on the sidewalks in their communities.

But let's not kid ourselves.

No politician, especially at the federal level, is "just like us." It doesn't matter how much hay a politician throws in the back of his truck. It doesn't matter how many buttons of his shirt are undone. And it doesn't matter how many pairs of cowboy boots he has.

By and large, politicians are highly educated, well connected, wealthy people who generally don't know what it's like to be or are anything but "just like us." By virtue of even successfully making it to Congress, it shows that they had the financial resources and knew enough influential people to help get them that far in their political careers.

This is not to say that politicians are incapable of empathizing with regular people, nor am I saying that "average people" are poor. But congressmen and senators make well over $150,000 a year with gold-plated pension plans and health insurance policies that millions of Americans can only dream of. They can vote on raises for themselves every year and have the power to make laws (loopholes and all) that create the least threat to their standard of living. Most of them have master's degrees, doctorates, MBAs, or law degrees. And they got these degrees from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Duke (full disclosure: I'm a Duke alum), Georgetown, Northwestern, Cornell, Dartmouth, and the military academies. And before they even made it to Washington, so many of them were lawyers, university professors, campaign/political staffers, consultants, high ranking corporate figures, or bigshots in their state or local governments.

In other words, they pretty much have an elite background.

How many of these politicians are products of the public school system? How many of them were office secretaries, truck drivers, high school math teachers, department store clerks, or meter maids? How many of them have ever shopped at the Dollar Tree or regularly buy their groceries at Walmart? How many of them drive 1993 Chevy Cavaliers or carpool to work so they can save on gas?

Obviously we want our politicians to be intelligent, competent, insightful people. As CNN's Roland Martin points out, that's why career janitors and other "average people" don't get elected. So we know that our politicians are likely going to be a little smarter, wealthier, and better connected than the rest of us. That's to be expected. But for these privileged people to criticize one of their own for being what they all are is absolutely preposterous.

Why are these people complaining so much about Obama being an "elitist?" Barack Obama is actually the least elite presidential candidate when it comes to personal wealth. And his biography is a lot more similar to those of regular people as well. To be sure, Obama has a lot of money, graduated from a prestigious school, and probably doesn't have to worry about not having enough money to support his family ever again. He's doing quite well now. But for the even wealthier and better connected Hillary Clinton and the wealthier still John McCain (a career elite senator) to lob the word "elitist" at him is not credible. And all the surrogates, talking heads, high profile opinionists, and journalists who are hammering him for this, including talk radio hosts on the right and Clinton supporters on the left, should take their 401(k) plans, their two or three houses, their ironclad pensions, their stock options, their offshore investments, their luxury SUVs, their private school alumni association memberships, their guaranteed 12 inches of personal space in the New York Times, their 60 minute show on Fox News, and their million-dollar salaries and stop embarrassing themselves through their hypocrisy.

I am not an Obama supporter, nor have I ever donated to his campaign. However, hearing someone with $50 million call someone with $5 million an "elitist" is not going to endear me any further to the person with the $50 million. Do voters pay attention to this? Or is one cowboy hat and one dirty fingernail all it takes for them to realize that the product of Harvard Law School who raked in millions from a consulting job that he got because of the friends he had in high places is really "one of them"?

Give me a break. It's okay to be an elitist. You can go to all the posh parties, have a personal chauffeur and landscaper, and live in the Hamptons all you want. I don't care about any of that stuff and will not begrudge you for it. If you're wealthy and well-connected, you probably worked hard to get to that point and deserve to be able to provide a good life for yourself and your family. Heck, someday I hope to be able to reach your level too. But don't pompously try to call someone out for being exactly what you are as well.

It's contemptible.

5 comment(s):

Schenck said...

applause

Thomas said...

The common argument out there is that Michelle Obama and Barack Obama are elitists. I bet if Michelle Obama had taken a different path and dropped out of school, gotten pregnant, and started collecting welfare checks, then these same people calling her an elitist now would be complaining about just another welfare queen on the rolls.

Anthony Palmer said...

Thomas,

Yes. It cracks me up. Obama was the inexperienced guy who didn't know how Washington worked just a few months ago, but now he's this flaming liberal elitist who knows everything. Just goes to show you that some people are never satisfied.

Brett said...

Excellent comment. I think it may not be that people seriously believe that Obama, Clinton, or McCain are actually one of them - they're more glad that the candidate is willing to actually show interest in their everyday pursuits, to at least seem like they care. But then, you never know; the fact that you still see people like Clinton, Obama, and "I married money" McCain actually try to act like this may indicate that that really is what voters believe.

No candidate would ever do it, but I'd actually be more grateful if one of these somewhat aristocratic candidates (I'm talking about the real posh ones) actually came out and said that he was a "man for the people, not of the people."

Freadom said...

Another great post. If I had time I'd read your blog everyday, but with life the way it is, I find myself playing catchup.

That in mind, you are right on. Even in the olden days, when candidates for pres. never left their home states, they might be seen greeting a baby with a kiss on the cheek.

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