America’s Progressive elite — wannabe Europeans

In a London Theater (by Charles Dana Gibson)

In a London Theater (by Charles Dana Gibson)

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.


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  • Ymarsakar

    They have molded American public opinion for a long time, why would they ever respect it? That’s like asking them to respect their nails, their vomit, or their hands.
    People in California still try to tell me that Oakland is the way it is because Republicans and people who love guns. They get their information, still, from the NYTimes and the SF T. Nay, not information, but their entire thinking and conclusions are copy and pasted from there. They even think polls are reflections of public opinion, rather than the Left controlling PR.
    In Cuba, the rich and the poor both supported the revolution. Guess  what happened to the rich later.

  • Zhombre

    There are progressives who are not elite: they are not wealthy, not influential, and some not even moderately successful. What they possess is a sense of themselves as, if not elite, as among the elect in the old Protestant sense. Joseph Bottum describes them his recent book An Anxious Age: the Post Protestant Ethic and Spirit of America.  In my own view, they are people who mostly eschew religiosity but are rigid, and almost arrogantly confident, in their progressive social & political beliefs, in essence having renamed God the Social Contract, and assuming having the correct, and rational, views earns them what Christians call grace & redemption. 

    • Bookworm

      Good point, Zhombre.  It’s a mix of the faithful and the snobbish, isn’t it?  I grew up amongst the snobbish, so that’s the prism through which I see things, especially when Emery described my parents and their social milieu so perfectly.

  • Ymarsakar

    Conversant with the point Zhom made, one cannot convince the LEft with light taps to their head and periodic “fact checks” with them, gently and softly massaging them to the path. That may work if they were true agnostics or atheists, but to convince them that your God exists, first you must DESTROY their belief in their own Satan, Divine Level Entity, God.
    You’re not dealing with someone who refuses to believe. You’re dealing with a true believer, a zealot, a Fing zombie fanatic. You’re not dealing with some incompetent, ignorant, kid that you can massage over to the Christian way if you just tap dance around the subject for 30 years.
    They will Never Accept Your God, your beliefs, or your existence as a human. Not until their belief is crushed and shattered to the four winds.
    Most people use the gentle methods of conversion for atheists, when they deal with Leftists. They aren’t atheists. Whatever the Catholic Church used to convert pagans to the Faith, is what may work.
    The now destroyed Confederate states of America once believed they were the rightful rulers of blacks and inferior people. The Democrats convinced them of the righteousness of slavery and the Confederate way, got them into a way, destroyed them financially, economically, morally, and militarily.
    Americans take the Leftist alliance too lightly. They underestimate the Power of the Left. But ignorance has a price, it is not always bliss. I can tell you this, when people who wouldn’t convert out of their faith even on pain of death, patronize Leftists and think the Left will convert from the Religion of Death with a few words sprinkled over 30 years… it ain’t going to happen. Don’t patronize them. Assume they are true believers, with at least half a spine for sticking it into the eye of your religion. They may not be willing to die for their Cause and Faith, but they are plenty ready to make you die for it on Command from their God (Hussein, Deus Ex Machina).

  • Matt_SE

    I’m no expert on the European upper-crust, but my impression has long been that they are a pack of sycophantic snobbish parasites, kept in power by a rigged system of laws.
    They sneer at merchants, without any understanding of the generation of wealth outside of feudalistic cronyism and indentured servitude.
    They have no basis for their sense of superiority.
    That they may have identified Obama as “one of them” isn’t surprising given what Emery has to say. I wonder if Obama’s view is the same.
    I will also say that I now have a new view of Obama’s and the “elites'” mendacity: they lie to us because we deserve to be lied to (in their minds).
    Similarly, Obamacare deserves to be inflicted upon us. The “elites” are itching to unleash the employer mandate on us, but are being constrained by the inevitable backlash. They probably resent being thwarted by the rubes this way.

  • Ymarsakar

    Look what I found Book.

    Californians, doing their thing, as usual.
    Weaklings personified. The predator. The prey. Every one of them.
    That Hollywood experience must have been one real big molestation for the kid. If only Californians could ban guns from all 57 States in the Union, like Hussein told them to, this wouldn’t happen. Everyone would be safe. Women wouldn’t be raped on campus by people who vote Republican. Yea, right.
    Democrat mind control, one way or another. They’ll get you by hook or crook. If they can’t con you into believing the Left’s lies, they’ll cook up an emergency like this one, and give you another reason to Obey.

    It’s a good thing all these people on the internet talk the talk, but it’s not like they actually go out and do whatever they say they will do. Right? 

  • JKB

    It would be a mistake to associate this view with just the Democrats.  The “elite” of the Republican party also maintain this viewpoint.  The argument is just between which elect get control of the church of government.  
    Look at the debate over the universities.  Both sides argue but the one thing they won’t contemplate is change.  They like to cite MOOCs but so far those are just “sage on the stage” on film.  None promote using the new mediums of audio, video and the internet to alter the way students are taught.  Augment, yes, but transform, no.  
    This certainly explains the Progs’, especially on the Democrat side, longing for the 1950s when the “elect” had their power and conformity of the masses was the order of the day.  Oh,  how the old people long for the world they were told to hate by the demagogues  of their youth.  It’s like the Woodstockers are just answers blowing in the wind.

    • Ymarsakar

      The current iteration of Republicans feels more like a country club instituted by the concentration of wealth and power in DC.

  • raymondjelli

    Today’s Left is a weird stew of Europhilia on steroids and the lowest kind of urban machine politics. It is like a bad Victorian novel where the villain is a snooty sophisticate but can be found in all the back alleys consorting with the villainous, heathen scum of the London slums. Except now it is called social justice and can be done in plain sight.
    We now know what Europe’s game has been since WWII. Triangulation. Let America fight the overt threats and slowly seep into American culture through the Universities by preaching hate of all things American. All the failures such as imperialism, genocide and world war are actually American failures. Poor Europe is such a victim.
    The end game seems to be an America that falls leaving Europe number one again. Suddenly social justice and anti-imperialism won’t be too important. Sophistication and pure European blood will be quite important. The thing is can we even allow Europe another period of dominance? They’ll bring about a third world war and this time with nuclear weapons. At what point do we target the place and save everyone else?

  • jj

    The fascinating part of this is that Obama is who he is.  What must go on in his head?  You’d think it would be nearly impossible for him, of all people, to wish to emulate the European model, because, according to that dopey book Ayers wrote for him, he was raised to despise Europe.  His father, (a dimwit on his best day,) was a determined anti-colonialist who positively seethed with hatred of the European colonial powers.  Admittedly, little Barry Jugears wouldn’t have known his father if he fell over him sprawled in the gutter outside an Indonesian bordello, but he got the attitude expressed in the book – which matched his father’s – from somewhere.  (Maybe the idiot mother told him long tales of the romantic fellow who wafted in on the west wind, knocked her up, and departed equally magically.)  It’s difficult to see him wishing to be like a European, and finding the European, non-democratic model admirable on any level.  What a nest of snakes must reside between this awful person’s enormous ears! 

  • Charles Martel

    This reminds me of the old saying about the Bourbons, “They learned nothing and forgot nothing.” I’ve yet to meet a leftist who learned anything from the rotten ends to two leftist ideologies, Communism and Nazism, or has forgotten that Dubyah once stood on an aircraft carrier in front of a banner that read, “Mission Accomplished.” There’s some real high-wattage brain power at work there. 

  • Ymarsakar
    Look on the bright side Book, least you’re not on the receiving end of this Californian aristocratic tradition. There’s something wrong with society, Western society in general. It may be Europe. It may be something else. But there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.

  • Charles Martel

    My wife and I watched “Saving Mr. Banks” last night, the fictionalized encounter between Walt Disney and the woman who wrote “Mary Poppins.” There was a telling contrast between the rambunctious, always experimenting and improvising Yanks and the uptight, order-obsessed Brit (who’d been born in Australia but had forgotten how to be Aussie).
    There is something in Europe and America’s elites that despises and fears the disorderliness and unpredictability of the common man. That’s why they “just know” what’s best for him, including forcing him out of suburbia, the automobile, and belief in God into closer quarters where he can enjoy the beautiful, colorful social interactions of such places as Cuba, Haiti, or Detroit. 

    • Ymarsakar

      What did you think of Being There, Chauncey Gardner? I heard someone mention Gardner and looked it up. Interesting movie.

  • David Foster

    Peter Drucker (himself an Austrian) wrote back in 1969 about the American vs European models of higher education:
    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…

    It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman. Yet this is the flexibility Europe needs in order to overcome the brain drain and to close the technology gap.
    Sadly, America has come far closer to the idea of Harvard Law playing the role of a Grand Ecole than was the case when Drucker wrote the above.

    • Ymarsakar

      In Ancient Imperial China, they had a merit test, and that alone, the objective test scores, were used to accept or deny a person’s appointment as an advisor or bureaucrat. Of course high level advisers had to show accomplishments such as military or leadership achievements. Scholars were not normally recognized as intelligent, unless they showed physical virtue or knowledge of physical martial arts.
      In modern Japan, some of this can be seen in the entry tests to various private academies. You may not get in using mere money, but if you are poor you can get in via the merit test itself, so that poor geniuses can still be given the same social status education as the upper class. Yet that also means rich people who fail the academic tests, can’t easily get back in cause of mommy and daddy’s money. They have entry tests for junior and high school. Results are cross posted, often times, in public for everyone in the school to see. Suicide rates for failure, are higher than us, but their mass murder sprees are lower. Many of them prefer jumping off a high place like a roof, rather than getting a sword or gun and going wild.

    • JKB

      I’ve posted this before, but it bears repeating.  Humanity advanced in spite of, not because of the “elite” universities.
      “Newcomen’s religion had consequences greater than absence from a local census.  Dissenters, including Baptists, Presbyterians, and others, were as a class, excluded from universities after 1660, an either apprenticed, or learned their science from dissenting academies.”
      “At the same time that he chartered the world’s first scientific society, Charles II had created an entire generation of dissenting intellectuals uncontrolled by his kingdom’s ever more technophobic universities.”
      p29, Rosen, Willam, ‘The Most Powerful Idea in the World’

      • Ymarsakar

        I think at certain times, humans need to get away from authorities and learn to think on their own, by their own.
        Too much of that and we end up with ferals living out in the wilderness, though.

  • Charles Martel

    Ymarsakar, I agree, a very interesting movie. The parallel between Gardener and Obama isn’t that the two men are that much alike—they’re not. Gardener’s bubble is built from isolation and innocent ignorance. Obama’s is built from arrogance and narcissism. The real similarities lie in the reactions of the people around them. In both cases, people who were essentially empty at their core thought they could fill themselves with the goodness they imagined they saw in each man.
    Well, maybe in Obama’s case the promise of free phones and contraception.

    • Ymarsakar

      Also, the walking on water. In 08, people actually believed, they really did, that a light would shine down upon disbelievers when viewing Hussein O, and they would Believe. They could convert to the new religion. The sea levels would lower, like Moses parting the dead sea or something.
      Gardner isn’t an evil person or a deceptive malicious one. He’s like that guy from that Southern type movie,
      A bit slow on the inside, but ultimately solid in foundation.
      Hussein is like what happens when Faust sold his soul to the devil for two prostitutes and a mansion. Different story types.

  • David Foster

    At least in Goethe’s version of the tale, Faust sold his soul because he wanted to “change the world,” to use the phrase which has been included in ten zillion pieces of advice to high school and college graduates this month.  See my post Faustian Ambition–the theme of ambition in Goethe’s Faust.

    • Ymarsakar

      An interesting set of excerpts. I myself never read the original version or its translations.
      When I was set the choice of changing the world or changing myself, I chose the latter over the former but I knew well the temptation of the former. By changing the world, one could easily lay to rest previous betrayals, set right previous wrongs, and enslave unwilling people and obstacles in one’s path. Various art and works of beauty gave me the vision to see to the end of that route, the route of enslaving the world to one’s will. It was not enough. One’s greatest enemy is that which sets in the mirror before me. Certainly changing the world may change one self, but it is a metamorphosis that is chaotic and unpredictable in the extreme. Being changed by the world is dealing with Mephistopheles. It presumes that one lacks the power of the world. Pure art, pure will, is creating results by will alone and if one cannot do that with the world, then that means the world is not under our will. Somebody has to act as the medium, the middle man, and that person is often a betrayer or con artist.
      Compared to that, I favored the harder path of changing and improving one’s own self. For that, above all else, provided a better form of mastery. Faust could certainly command the life and deaths of others in the world, thus changing the world. By commanding one’s own life to diminish and one’s own desire to live to be subordinate to one’s will, by taking a lethal blow as a necessary prerequisite to achieving one’s Will, was by far the grander and more majestic art I envisioned.
      When it came to building the world a better place, one needed resources. And the greatest resource I discovered was individual will in humans. The greatest humans tended to change the world and I always wondered whether that was because the world changed them and made them historic, or they changed the world by changing themselves.
      People who did not believe in the potential of humanity, would never respect the single individual will and would always view it as an obstacle to the Greater Good. While those who hate humanity, but values individual power and ability, will be able to see the need for certain rare resources. Those who plan out humanity’s evolution, are mere dullards when compared to true genius or divine level planning. Faust never did equal the intellect or power of a Mephistopheles, yet he thought his Faustian mind was qualified to remake the world. That is hubris. Only the most crystallized, the rarest of human talent, and the greatest, most powerful, human will can reshape reality according to their will. Otherwise, the world may change, but not in the way one intends. Yet humans are mortal and flawed, thus one needs replacement parts and fail safe engineering. We need more human resources. There’s no point in changing the world if the people that are needed to maintain that age, all died out because the slavery and wars needed to change the world, wiped out the people that we needed to change the world.
      Anyways, I forgot most of what my sources said on this, so I’m making off hand summaries.