Monday, June 2, 2008

The Elitism Thing

Some thoughts on elitism
by Steve Burdette

I read the following essay about mid-week just past and found it both remarkable in its clarity and its thesis intriguing. It certainly has me rethinking my adoration for the caucus process. I frankly think Burdette's essay should be read by many, many people, so I asked Mr. Burdette to let me do my little part by publishing it here on my blog. I hope you'll pass it along to others of your thinking, caring friends. Mr. Burdette holds an MLS degree from the University of Minnesota. I have some news tid-bits for you following the essay. [Charlie Leck]

Having spent most of my "adult" life working for money, and loathing the experience all the way, I came to realize that it is labor (the effort, not the movement) which prevents us from reform. I cannot begin to sum the number of rallies, protests, or even simple events such as tours of the Capitol building that I was unable to attend due to work. As I advanced in my career, I eventually earned paid time off (PTO has replaced "vacation") but even then, I generally had to list a "reason" for using my PTO so that someone could determine how meritorious my request was in comparison to others. When I finally attained the level of "working professional," with enough income to not worry about paying my bills or living from paycheck to paycheck, my eyes turned to politics. I'll make almost seven times the "Federal Poverty Level" in 2008 before taxes, but it takes nearly that amount for me to feel as if I have enough money to not worry about losing my home, my car, or some other essential.

When I finally began my political awakening, I was astounded at the things that I could not do because of decisions made by my elected representatives. I wondered where I might find the grandiose politicians so reverently discussed during my primary school history classes: JFK, Bobby Kennedy, MLK, Rosa Parks (admittedly, not all active politicians, but activists to me) – where had these people gone? I saw Ronald Reagan as a president on the walls and wondered then what it was like to be president. Now I wonder how this country could have elected someone like Reagan when President Carter seemed to be doing so well based on what I had read. I then learned two lessons: public perception, and money. People liked Ronald Reagan, and didn't care how he could/should/would lead the country. The disillusioned Dixiecrats embraced Social Conservatism, and we began a steady march backwards in time. When the Iran Contra Scandal precipitated "I don't remember" as a valid excuse to a Congressional Committee, and Oliver North is now an expert frequenting FOX News, it has become clear that we have lost our way.

As I have advocated so many times, the Founding Fathers forgot to add the "Sanity" branch of government. I call it the missing Fourth Branch. They naively assumed that we would build upon the foundation they laid and create a country that continued to prosper. Certainly the Second Amendment's "Right to Bear Arms" clause made complete sense, even I agree with that notion. But the "strict constructionist" judges like Alito and Roberts are so flawed in their approach that they cannot fathom the notion that Founding Fathers never conceived a child carrying a semi-automatic weapon into an elementary school and killing or wounding dozens of his classmates. Or it happening again. Or again, perhaps instead of Columbine, at Virginia Tech. They would never believe that a political party would become so drunk with power it would convene at a cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayers to argue whether or not the Federal Government had a place in determining the fate of Terry Schiavo. They would have expected those millions of dollars to go for the common good. They certainly held their beliefs in God and faith closely, but they certainly could have established a state religion, and they not only elected not to, but phrased quite clearly that Congress was forbidden from doing so. Their error lies in assuming that we would understand their intent, a separation of Church and State, although not so specifically enumerated in the Constitution. I often tell my proselytizing friends that they should introduce an amendment at the Federal level repealing the second amendment. We undid prohibition, we can undo the separation. I have yet to see anyone take up the challenge.

Indeed, elitism seems most prevalent today amongst the most devout. My own experiences are that the more devout a person is to any faith, to the point of unquestioning loyalty, the more elite they become. It might be argued that Liberalism is a faith, as well. I agree entirely in the concept of Liberalism, and yet when I tell my liberal friends that I do not think we should have a law mandating seat belt usage for adults (call it my furthering of Darwinism) they get all ruffled about how people should be forced to protect themselves. "Those who are willing to sacrifice a little liberty for a little security deserve neither and will lose both." My mother constantly harps about us slowly selling our rights in the face of the common good, and I am hard-pressed to defend or deflect her remarks. Yet I don't see anyone introducing legislation to repeal the "Seat Belt Law" in our statehouse. Instead, I see efforts to make it more draconian, all for my own protection.

Elitism is a word that must be used carefully, but we must guard against it, too. I do not tell someone who doesn't wear their seatbelt they are breaking a law: I call them a fool and agree it's their right not to do so. The same, in a circumspect way, appeals to "Susan." In her world, as in mine, my life is limited to the news and information I can gather driving to and from work, and maybe on an evening broadcast of the news. I try to catch up with online news sources, but I also need to eat and sleep. I have the luxury of watching near-real-time video clips over my high-speed Internet connection in a suburban home. I no longer worry about paying my electric bill, and when I look at it, my life and those of my peers borders on excess. My computer comes with an Operating System that contains games, while people in other countries, and even in my own, struggle to eat and work two jobs to put food on the table and keep the electricity and heat running for another pay period. Am I elite or an elitist because I enjoy my successes? No, but my experiences in life are certainly different than that of a black, single mother of three who lives in a poor, urban neighborhood who cannot take time off from either of her jobs (neither of which provide healthcare) to take her sick child to the doctor. If I feel sick, I call my manager and say I am not coming into work today, I'm "using a day of PTO" and that's the end of the discussion. She has no recourse.

Is it any wonder, then, that our society is so fractionalized? If not by monetary means, then by faith. If not by faith, then by class. If not by class, then by gender. I look at the open warfare between the Clinton and Obama camps and am saddened. Is anyone perfect? I think not. Did Hillary really mean to imply that she expected Barack Obama to be assassinated with her references to the tragic events of Bobby Kennedy's assassination? I don't think so. Did or does Barack Obama believe the rants of Jeremiah Wright? Doubtful. But we expect perfectionism from everyone nominated to public office. Ever had a mental breakdown? You're no good. Had a marital transgression? Clearly you can't be trusted to not do so again. Made a mistake or two in the past? We can't trust you with our future then, can we?

Has it never occurred to anyone that we learn from our mistakes, and that the best leaders our nation has produced are not models of exemplary lives, but ones who have experienced the horrors of war, the tragedy of personal loss, or the struggle under an oppressive government from which we sought our own independence. I often wonder what kind of conversation might ensue between the leaders whose faces we depict on Mount Rushmore, were they able to converse, about the state of our union now. Would they laugh, as sadly as I do, when George Bush says "The state of our nation is good" or that we aren't in a recession? Would they not be insulted that a man such as Bush was not only handed the election by the judicial branch, but then re-elected by the public after failing so miserably? Washington would be disappointed, unquestionably. This is not the America he envisioned.

Until we remove the litmus test of perfection from our leaders and our friends, family, colleagues, and until we realize that someone is bound to be offended by something we say almost any time we open our mouths to speak, we will live in a society where everyone is an elitist, or a condescending person. Everyone is a victim at some time, but some people are perpetual victims (think Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh) who are not only decrying their own status as a victim, but trying their damndest to ensure you believe you're a victim, too.

Until such a time as people turn away from such propaganda, and are free to actually learn about the individuals they seek to elect, I expect little progress on the front of Progressive Politics. Such a movement requires an active and informed electorate – and while the electorate is active, they are seldom informed. When the Right Wing stops trying to save my soul, and the Left Wing stops trying to save me from my own ineptitude, it is possible we will see movement on the progressive front. Until then, I can only echo the words of Edward R. Murrow in saying, "Good Night, and Good Luck."

News Tid-Bits

Obama will speak in Saint Paul on Tuesday evening – tomorrow. I imagine his campaign will try to pack the Excel Center. It is being promoted as a close to the national primary campaign. I'm guessing he'll announce his victory. It would be extraordinary if Hillary Clinton were to show up to introduce him and congratulate him. It would show the party is learning something about winning.

It appears Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas is in a bit of trouble. He has a fierce challenger in Rick Noriega, who is an Afghanistan vet. This is quite extraordinary. Cornyn was Bush's constant rubber stamp fellow in the Senate and it may now cost him. This is a race to keep your eyes on and
check out this Rasmussen report.

Scott McClellan's book is getting the cold shoulder and I find it interesting. Many columnists mention it without even giving its title. Nothing new the opinionators are saying. Read this
column by Kevin Cullen published today in the Boston Globe as an example. Actually, the impact of McClellan book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, will grow over the next month and it will convince many people, who have been on the fence, that Bush was a liar on the War in Iraq. What was the depth of the lying? Read this report by the Center for Public Integrity. Of all the reviews I've read, the Associated Press report on the book appears to be the most balanced and unbiased. McClellan says publically that Bush didn't actually lie. The book appears to say something else.

I'd suggest a better memoir to you. Why not read Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story, written by former commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez? It gives a better picture of what was going on inside the White House regarding the war.
There's a good article about it on AlterNet.

Minnesota Public Radio has an interesting little challenge going. It lets you decide how to spend 3.3 trillion dollars of the tax payer's money. Put the budget together and decide how much goes where. It's called
Budget Hero. Don't expect to play it in 3 or 4 minutes.

Thanks to Steve Burdette and come on back tomorrow.

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