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Ed Driscoll

Puritanical Poseurs in Paradise

October 19th, 2010 - 6:28 pm

In her column at First Things, Elizabeth Scalia, aka, The Anchoress asks, “Is there an elite class in America, and if yes, what renders it so?”

Lately, the elitist notion has turned into a hardy grapple between the mainstream and alternative punditries. The mainstream, in a tacit admission that they are elitist, sniff “What’s the matter with elitism?” and—in a staggering display of distortive spinmanship—chide their lessers as being “anti-education.”

The alternative crew volleys between amusement and disdain while wondering whether the ignoble “elite”—who seem “educated” but not particularly smart—should more properly be referred to as the “credentialed gentry.”

Elites or gentry, the people who described the electorate as “ineducable” in 2004 but “enlightened” in 2008 are running out of big words with which to condemn their unpersuaded lessers, and so for 2010 they are falling back on calling them “yahoos” and referring to their non-elite preferred candidates as “crazy” or “dumb.” If the preferred candidate is a female, the credentialed gentry—including their liberated women—feel no compunction in labeling her as “crazy,” “dumb”, “mean,” or even “a whore.”

Is there an elite class in America, and if yes, what renders it so? Is it mere money or Ivy League polish? Is it because they have great social and political connections and what we used to refer to as their “rolodex”? Is it education? Social skills? Empathy? Enlightenment? Or does one become elite simply by dint of one’s ability to sustain an illusion—to fool oneself and others—that one is a counter-cultural egalitarian, while living what formerly would have been thought a country-club life?

Every Sunday I meander through the New York Times like a mildly ADHD-afflicted canine in Central Park, who moves excitedly from plant to tree to park bench because there is just so much to sniff.

And every Sunday I finally close the paper and think, this is a publication which editorializes on the evils of capitalism, praises European-style socialism, and so disdains middle-class folk like me and my family that—were it not for our subscription—we would not exist in their awareness. It showcases a weekly hardship-story or two but is otherwise chock-full of people so rich I have never heard of them, people who breathe rarefied air and move their conclaves between Town and Country, between Sotheby’s Manhattan and Sotheby’s Southampton, so to speak.

The paper serves these pretend-egalitarian school-choice opponents, who send their own children to private schools—the folks who cry “racism” at Arizona but would likely never encounter a working-class immigrant or have one on their property, illegal or otherwise, except to erect the extra-high walls around their fortresses, or cook their meals, or stain their decks.

The New York Times postures. A powerful corporate entity that is part of the firmly-entrenched cultural establishment, it fancies itself the radical student-idealist speaking smack to the man, and that cognitive dissonance clangs and reverberates amid those who aspire to live the lifestyle it promotes, and it helps them to live the illusion that their gentrified lives are somehow part of an ongoing struggle.

And maybe that is what defines an elite: the lip-curled reproach to anything that has come before this privileged and smug generation—tradition, faith, heroic self-denial—and the illusion that their disdain is somehow a broader and more enlightened “love.”

Which brings us to Michael Gerson in the Washington Post, on Obama the Snob:

After a series of ineffective public messages — leaving the political landscape dotted with dry rhetorical wells — President Obama has hit upon a closing argument.

“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now,” he recently told a group of Democratic donors in Massachusetts, “and facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared.”

Let’s unpack these remarks.

Obama clearly believes that his brand of politics represents “facts and science and argument.” His opponents, in disturbing contrast, are using the more fearful, primitive portion of their brains. Obama views himself as the neocortical leader — the defender, not just of the stimulus package and health-care reform but also of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains — the location of reptilian ritual and aggression. Some, presumably Democrats, rise above their evolutionary hard-wiring in times of social stress; others, sadly, do not.

Though there is plenty of competition, these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president.

The neocortical presidency destroys the possibility of political dialogue. What could Obama possibly learn from voters who are embittered, confused and dominated by subconscious evolutionary fears? They have nothing to teach, nothing to offer to the superior mind. Instead of engaging in debate, Obama resorts to reductionism, explaining his opponents away.

It is ironic that the great defender of “science” should be in the thrall of pseudoscience. Human beings under stress are not hard-wired for stupidity, which would be a distinct evolutionary disadvantage. The calculation of risk and a preference for proven practices are the conservative contributions to the survival of the species. Whatever neuroscience may explain about political behavior, it does not mean that the fears of massive debt and intrusive government are irrational.

Which may be why, as Roger L. Simon writes here at PJM, “For Obama and the Left, ‘Scared’ Is the New ‘Angry’”

As if channeling Dr. Phil or some other shoot-from-the-hip television shrink, our president is now barnstorming the country, telling us the voters are “scared” and not thinking clearly.

“People are still hurting very badly, and they are still scared. And so part of the reason our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired  not to always think clearly when we’re scared,” Obama said at a Democratic fundraiser Sunday in Boston. “And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be.”

Talk about misdiagnosis!  The voters aren’t scared.  They are angry.  Mad as Hell, in fact.   They are angry at his policies and the way those policies have been rammed down their throats –and they have a right to be.  That’s why citizens — who have never done anything like that before — have organized all over the country and are on the brink of destroying his party at the ballot box.

Now the question remains, why is “scared” the new “angry” for Obama?  Is he just throwing (obfuscating) mud at the wall in a moment of electoral panic or is there some sort of plan or attitude behind it?

I lean toward the latter and here’s why:  The accusation that their opponents are “scared” has become the default position of the left. A prime example, as many realize, is the word Islamophobia.  It is a deliberate misnomer, imputing “fear” to people who dislike or even despise the ideology of Islam for whatever reason. (Institutionalized misogyny might be a good one.)

Of course, the deeper intent in accusing your opposition of being “scared” is to defuse it.  An ancillary benefit is to avoid discussing the issues, which in the current situation Obama and his allies are doing their level bests to avoid.

Or to coin a phrase, “Basically, it hurts to learn that everything you think you know about the last 100 years is wrong.’”

(QED, this Daily Caller headline: “Democrats start to doubt Keynes.” Gee, what took so long?)

Related: Thomas Friedman missed it by that much. But then, the New York Times misses lots of things these days.

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