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Tom Alderman Headshot

What's an Elitist Anyway?

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It's very confusing trying to figure out what an elitist is these days. Who qualifies to be an elitist? Are there standards? Certain physical characteristics? Is it catching? If you somehow become one, are you better off? Worse off? Very confusing.

Like everything else, the meaning depends on who uses it. If you're an elitist-using politician, you're accusing someone of being an intellectual, an out-of-touch wine-drinking effete snob. Not good if you're the elitist-receiving politician. Obama's hearing it. John Kerry got tagged. So did George H.W. Bush when he appeared not to know what a grocery store check-out scanner was. So did Adlai Stevenson when he ran for president against Dwight Eisenhower who called him an 'egghead' -- which is another way of saying, an intellectual with lofty ideas beyond the reach of working folk.

So, is high-flown thinking an ingredient in elitism? Apparently. That makes people like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and Hamilton elitists. So is Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Jonas Salk and Bill Gates.

Another component of elitism is wealth. The more bucks you have, the higher your elitist rating. People without money do not qualify so Mother Theresa is definitely not elite.

Elitism also means you belong to a select or superior group. So people like Astronauts and Navy Seals are elite -- as are former presidents, men who wear NBA championship rings and everyone in the Guinness Book of Records.

And no meaning of elitism would be compete without social status. If you are to-the-manor born, you are the desktop icon for elitism. 'Course, that depends on the manner of your manor. If your manor was Graceland, then Lisa Marie Presley is an elitist. If you had several manor houses in several different places while growing up, then George W. Bush is an elitist.

Wealth, social status, brains and belonging to a special group all do seem to be pieces of elitism. But the one component that covers it all is snobbery -- the person who looks down his, or her, nose on others, the person who thinks he is better than others, who thinks it's his way or the wrong way, who views others as inferior. So that means that racists and extreme fundamentalists are elitists.

See why it's so confusing?