When I read an opinion piece, like this one, the first thing I want to know is "where is the author coming from? What are his/her biases?"
So let's get that right out of the way. I'm about as average a guy as the Baby Boom generation could create. I was raised by hard-working middle class parents. We were neither rich or poor. I got my first job -- bagging groceries -- when I was 16. If I'd been a better student in high school, I might have gone on to a university, but I was an awful student. (These days they'd probably have me on a Ritalin IV drip, I was so "distracted" -- as in bored to tears -- in class.) So I went to the JC, where I lasted one semester before flunking out, losing my S2 student deferment and ending up in the Marine Corps. I never went back to school but instead commenced an enormously interesting series of professions -- none of which I was qualified for -- but which I somehow profitably pulled off in one fashion or another.
I only mention all that because the subject of this piece is America's sudden obsession with "elitists." Now that you know where I'm coming from you can assume that, while I may be many things, I am no elitist. My CV would not get me past the front gate of a country club, much less a full membership.
Now, onto the meat of this meal.
Ever since Barack Obama was overheard describing middle America as a place filled with people who are "bitter" over their economic circumstances and "clinging to guns and religion," the debate has been fully engaged. Is he an "elitist?" Does he "look down on average Americans?"
While it took Obama's comments to flush these kind of sentiments into the light of day, they've been around for decades. By my reckoning America's own cultural revolution began in earnest with Ronald Reagan's first run for president. Reagan was an actor, whose entire public persona was defined by fictional, gritty and heroic characters in the movies. While Reagan's political opponents were men of letters, he himself was little more than an amalgam of scripted characters.
Yet Reagan vanquished his better-educated foes, not once, but continually. He pulled this off by leveraging those fictional personas, the brave WWII fighter pilot, the heroic railroad worker who loses his legs in a rail accident, but rises again. Doing so tapped a reservior of resentment and estrangement with Washington and politicians middle Americans felt neither understood or represented them. Reagan's characters spoke to tens of millions of hard-working, white Americans. Those characters -- and therefore Reagan -- was one of them, one with them against an increasingly complex world that seemed to be leaving them puzzled, scared and behind.
That meant having to cast Reagan's opponents as something else. And that something else became, "elitists." They becamce "over-educated" snobs who did not understand average Americans, who hung out with other "elitists," particularly members of the press and all those suspiciously "anti-American" university professors.
When other countries complained about Reagan's foreign policies, "average Americans" turned their ire on them as well. The UN and and "Ur-o-peans," were added to what has become a growing list of "elitists" who "just didn't get it... didn't understand the great American average guys and gals were the heart and soul of real America."
That sentiment grew over the years, reinforced by the fumbling presidency of Jimmy Carter and later by the self-indulgent, "I'm the smartest guy in the room, a Rhodes Scholar, and I can do whatever I want," tenure of Bill Clinton -- and his equally needy and self-impressed sidekick, Hillary.
Eventually these anti-intellectual/anti-elitist sentiments gave us eight years of George W. Bush, a man so intellectually stunted he makes me look like a Rhode Scholar.
I am not going to diminish average Americans, because they can be pretty amazing and inspiring folks.
I knew them well back in the mid-1970s, when I bought and ran a dairy farm in Wisconsin, just south of Madison. They taught me everything I came to know about farming, a tough juggling act of a profession if ever there was one. Disaster continually lurked around every corner for a farmer. and it took guts and daily skill to avoid them. Husbands, wives and children worked incredibly hard in concert to make a modest living.
Having said that, I would not want any farmer I met during those years running the country. All I had to do was to let a conversation stray from farming and the weather to politics, religion, race or the economy to understand why.
My wife, a nurse, worked at a local Catholic hospital. Another nurse, a local gal, protested to Sue one day that those folks in Washington think everyone in middle America was racist.