I'm an unrepentant elitist. I must report that I even read the New York Review of Books and the London Times Literary Supplement. No kidding. I enjoy them. Not bragging, just confessing. I should have been out more playing in the fresh air when I was a kid. And most of all I deeply admire literacy and rationality in others. See, I have enough guts to start a sentence with an and? Only an elitist would do that. It's the confidence that allows us (or is it we?) elitists to toss out the rules and live by our own notion of what makes a good life or a good sentence. But what I don't have this week is patience with those who have come down hard on Barack Obama by calling him an elitist (read: snob) for making a clumsy but rational and compassionate statement about those people who cannot escape the crushing misfortune of unemployment with its debt and despair; a statement of concern for people who lack health care, and who are forced to live by the first rule of George Bush's America which states, "get rich quick or get out of sight and die quietly."
If you don't believe that small-town America is suffering from despair take a drive through some of those quaint old New England villages with their iconic white churches and their moribund Main Streets that were killed years ago by some massive Kmart mall a few miles away, a mall in which almost nothing is sold with a "made in the USA" label. It's hard to find a town without a storefront that carries the ubiquitous sign "Drug Rehab Center." It's a sign more frequently seen than "Fresh Apple Cider and Maple Syrup sold here." Small-town America is hurting. And when Obama pointed that out it was a humane judgment about the cramped and desperate lives of so many people who live far from the more prosperous cities and their opportunities. His rivals, Clinton and McCain, have tried to turn his somewhat awkward observation into a fatal political blunder. And they are doing a good job of it, word twisting is a highly competitive Olympic sport in which Republicans excel, but a gal like Hillary can easily compete. The rip snortin' gun totin', beer guzzlin' Hillary Hell Raiser, trained to shoot straight during her heroic counter-insurgency exploits in Bosnia, also knows best what the poor feel and need. Didn't she go to Wellesley College and take Miss Witherspoon's Compassion 101 course? This elitist charge about Obama has been picked up and treated with the usual intellectual shabbiness by a mainstream press, and its right wing pundits. The conservative press really wants us to believe that the world is made up of the caring rich (Bush, and McCain) and the happy poor, so that nobody does anything to alter the way things are.
John McCain -- no elitist he -- but a world class opportunist -- has picked up Hillary's song and is singing it loud for all the world to hear. He once did a lousy imitation of Barbra Streisand, but his attempt to impersonate Hillary is far better, he gets the scolding, self-congratulating tone just right. Listen to his new commercial which attacks Obama for his elitism, so filled with the glee of gotcha politics, with the bully boy chuckle scarcely concealed underneath. McCain, who succeeded in financing his ambitions by divorcing one wife and marrying upwards to his rich Cindy doesn't think that Obama has a clue about the white, rural poor. After all, how can a poor black kid ever know what poor white people feel? Hunger, fear, and desperation obviously have different DNA in black and white folks.
Yes, I've had my own problem with Obama's cool demeanor in the past but I see it now for what it is; the careful manner of a man who occasionally puts up a protective shield between himself and the world. And well he should. Let's cut to the chase, as they used to say in Hollywood. What the elite-mongers are actually doing is calling Obama an uppity ni**er and he knows it. What they are saying is "How dare this black man who was raised by a single mother on food stamps and managed to make his way through Harvard pass judgment on those poor whites who didn't have his good fortune in being born black and poor?" Why can't he be more like that decent Colin Powell who took his orders from Bush and spread his lies before the United Nations and then went home to choke on them? Or more like Condi who does a little tap dance with the truth every time she is called before Congress to testify about her egregious failures of judgment? That's the way decent black folks are supposed to behave in government these days.
If elitist means that you were against the Iraq war from the start because you were informed enough to see the horror ahead, then I am an elitist, as were so many in this country, particularly Barack Obama. For me being elitist means making intelligent judgments and rational distinctions and trying to understand the dilemma and the concerns of those who haven't gotten the breaks. Okay, I'm an elitist. But I'll sock anyone in the nose who dares to call me a snob.