Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Elitism" seen from the U.K.

Susan Jacoby comments on the different uses of the word "elitist" on both sides of the wet bit:

Republicans are slapping the elitist bullseye on Barack Obama, though his is a story of earned privilege through scholarships, hard work and brains. His supposedly elitist traits include a Harvard Law School degree; a command of the spoken and the written word; and (horrors!) a body too thin for the comfort of ordinary obese Americans. If Obama were running here as a Labour candidate with a similar background - as, say, a boy who grew up to earn a double First at Oxford after being raised by an English working mother whose Kenyan husband abandoned her - he might be called many things by the opposition, but elitist would probably not be one of them.

The political definitions of both elite and elitism in the US are now being broadened to include knowledge itself. Last spring, when Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton proposed a summer "gas tax holiday" and Obama opposed the plan, reporters asked Clinton why not a single liberal or conservative economist thought that a temporary gasoline tax exemption would be of any use. Clinton airily dismissed all expert economic analysis as "elite thinking". To escape the charge of elitism, a US candidate may now be required to display not only a beer belly, but also a preference for ignorance over expertise.


The New Statesman, August 18, 2008