Noemie Emery has an excellent article about the way in which every phase of Obama’s presidency, including election, has been the culmination of 100 years of American elitism looking for the platform to prove that Big Government powered by Ivy League minds is the perfect expression of government. To date, as with the whole anthropogenic climate change shtick, the elitists’ theory has failed miserably when it comes to facts.
What struck me immediately about Emery’s article was that she was describing people I know very well, and I don’t mean my Marin neighbors, or my Berkeley classmates, or the snotty pseudo intellectuals who peopled Naomi Wolf’s social group at high school. Instead, the article struck closer to home. The secret is in this paragraph (emphasis mine):
Attitudinal rather than doctrinaire in their judgments, they leaned Democratic because of their loathing of business, but they judged people largely by mores and manners, and men in both parties would earn their contempt. Harry Truman, as Siegel notes, “had triumphed not only over Republicans and business, but also over Henry Wallace and the supporters of the Soviet Union on the left, and Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrat segregationists of the right.” Truman was also a businessman whose small men’s-wear store had gone bankrupt, and for this Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a solon whose influence would span half a century, called him “a man of mediocre and limited capacity.” Schlesinger, who also complained about the “Eisenhower trance” and described the race between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter as “Babbitt vs. Elmer Gantry,” would find his true soulmate in Adlai E. Stevenson, a fellow snob and two-time loser in the race for the White House, whom Michael Barone has described as “the first leading Democratic politician to become a critic rather than a celebrator of middle class American culture.” Schlesinger famously fell for John Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, less for their politics, which were in the end not too different from Truman’s, than for their personal glamour and aura of privilege, which set them apart from the multitude. But even those two, and their successors, fell short. Kennedy shunned Schlesinger’s counsel. Bill Clinton was a wonk but also a Bubba, who never completely outgrew the Hot Springs experience. All three had middlebrow tastes when it came to the culture, sympathized with the middle class, and tried to promote and not stifle prosperity and upward mobility. And thus the elites had to wait for the man of their dreams.
That describes to a tee my parents, both of whom were European to the bone. In fact, although he voted for the philosemitic Reagan against the antisemitic Carter, to the end of his day, my dad’s favorite presidential candidate was Adlai Stevenson . . . because he was so witty.
Although both lived in America for a longer period than they had ever lived in any other country, and despite the fact that my father grew up in Berlin slums and an orphanage, they were all about manners and attitude. They were less impressed by decent people than they were by people who knew how to use their salad forks correctly. I once abandoned someone who was, in retrospect, a very nice boyfriend for me, and one with whom I could have been happy, because my parents sniffed “Oh, he’s in sales” — never mind that he wasn’t selling encyclopedias door-to-door but was, in fact, a very successful bond salesman. It was enough that he wasn’t “one of us,” meaning that he wasn’t hyper-educated, excessively well-read, and conversant with fancy cutlery.
Europe has always been subject to top down leadership, whether it was the ancient tribal leader, the Roman emperor, the Renaissance king, or the modern socialist nomenklatura. The common people might eventually have been allowed to cast votes, but they were never allowed to vote for people outside of the leadership cadre. The European masses can’t be trusted and, indeed, that idea was reinforced after WWII. Brussels is the perfect expression of a leadership class terrified of the common people. Rather than educating each common man to be a self-reliant, open-minded, entrepreneur, Europeans work hard to ensure that the masses get bread and circuses, including the circus that is the illusion of democracy. (Although the UKIP’s success in the most recent British election may indicate that ordinary Brits are getting a little fed up with EU governance.)
America’s Progressives fully agree with the European elite. As Emery says of the way in which the Progressive elites embraced Obama:
Best of all, [Obama] was the person whom the two branches of the liberal kingdom—the academics and journalists—wanted to be, a man who shared their sensibilities and their views of the good and the beautiful. This was the chance of a lifetime to shape the world to their measure. He and they were the ones they were waiting for, and with him, they longed for transcendent achievements. But in the event they were undone by the three things Siegel had pegged as their signature weaknesses: They had too much belief in the brilliance of experts, they were completely dismissive of public opinion, and they had a contempt for the great middle class.
You really have to read Emery’s whole essay to get the full flavor of her scathing indictment of America’s academic and media left, but I can’t resist quoting here her description of Obamacare, the ne plus ultra of American elitist’s Euro-style governance . . . top down all the way:
But nothing did so much as the historic, transcendent health care proposal to contradict David Brooks’s contention, in the summer of 2009, that the president “sees himself as a Burkean” and “understands complexity and the organic nature of change.” Social Security had been large, but made no change in the structure of government, and the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 (signed by Bill Clinton at the Republicans’ urging) was based on successful experiments at the state level conducted by governors of both parties. The Affordable Care Act looked for advice to academics, not governors, and proposed the state takeover of an industrial complex responsible for one-sixth of the gross national product based not on what had been proved to work through experience, but on what some intellectuals had guessed might work. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, this camel was a 2,801-page non-bestseller filled with labyrinthine riddles that nobody seemed to know how to solve. To insure approximately 18 million out of 300-plus million Americans (they confessed the plan would still leave 20 million uninsured), they proposed to spend trillions on a reengineering of the entire system that would in time cause 80 to 100 million of the currently insured to lose and to seek new insurance.
Many are still stunned that the self-defined “best and brightest” couldn’t believe that Obamacare couldn’t work. Having been raised in my parents’ household, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. As far as these faux-Europeans were concerned, the country was in the very best of hands — theirs — so nothing could go wrong.
There are many tragedies flowing from the elitists’ hubris and self-loathing (because these people are embarrassed by their American-ness). For example, generations of workers have been lost to a terrible economy, untold numbers will die or suffer terribly because of Obamacare (and we know this, because the VA is a microcosm of America’s skill at running socialized, or semi-socialized, medicine), and the world suffers because Obama’s refusal to approve the Keystone Pipeline, depriving Americans of jobs and propping up rotten oil-igarchies.
In some way, though, the greatest, and most worrisome, tragedy is that none in the Progressive class have lost their absolute faith in their European model. As they daily make clear, in their minds, the model isn’t the problem. Instead, it’s the rotten American lumpen proletariat that insists on clinging to an outdated Constitution in order to avoid succumbing to the serfdom that characterizes too many European citizens, whether in the Roman empire, feudal France, or socialist England.