Saturday, 30 October 2010

That's quite enough of that

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Warning for intemperate language. Which is ironic, since I am always banging on about the wonders of moderation.

May we just stop with the whole liberal elite thing? I mean, really? It used to be one of those stupid things that stupid people say which was so stupid that it blended into white noise. Yeah, yeah, I thought: there go those Real America dog whistles again, sing me something else why don't you? It was this old, creaking plank in a certain kind of culture warrior Republican thinking that went something like: if we could only get rid of those latte-drinking, arugula-eating, Com-simping, fag-lovin', tree-hugging coastal types, then we can all be happy and go hunt some quail. (Or something.) The shining city on the hill would finally be built, without those ghastly liberals who hate America, and we can sit and dream of Ronald Reagan. It's what Sarah Palin means when she calls the Tea Partiers 'real Americans'. Which does slightly beg the question: are all the other Americans fake? Have they been kidnapped by space aliens and replaced with pods?

The odd thing is that the liberal elite idea has crept out from its right-wing corral and is tripping about in general discourse. Quite sensible commentators now use it without inverted commas, as if there does exist a cabal of leftist snobs who party with Arianna Huffington on the Upper East Side and look down their noses at people who shop at Wal-Mart and like guns. It was always an exclusively American thing, but recently one of the crosser bloggers over at The Telegraph has started using it. 'Is this the last gasp from America's liberal elites?' yells the headline. It is a reference to an article by the Nobel Laureate, Paul Krugman, which is, according to Crossly Crossington: 'the pathetic whimper of a decaying liberal Ancien Regime which is spectacularly crumbling'. As a humble blogger, I know my place. I too get grumpy about things, but I would think twice before accusing someone with a Nobel Prize of pathetic whimpering. I've seen Paul Krugman in interviews; his calm speech is the farthest thing from a whimper I've ever heard.

Now the liberal elite meme is knocking at my own door, I am digging in my heels. First of all, I could not bear it if liberal became a dirty word here as it so often is in American discourse. It has a storied and honourable tradition; it is Gladstone and Mill and Keynes. I am not going to have it grubbied up by cross people.

Second, what is this Ancien regime of which the grumpy blogger speaks? Until 2008, the Republicans had been in charge for eight years. Where was the Liberal Ancien Regime then? Buggering off to Paris to have its nails done? It's as if the writer is just making things up out of whole cloth.

Third, and perhaps most important: may we start a campaign to stop 'elite' being used as a term of abuse? Ironically, this derogatory usage has not quite caught on here, despite the British being famously anti-intellectual and fond of tall poppy syndrome. We have a blatant adoration of the underdog. It was the Americans always who were supposed to be puzzled by this, with their straightforward worship of success. The whole notion of the American dream is that John (or even Jane) Doe could become President; by definition joining an elite, for there is nothing more elitist than being the Leader of the Free World. So how is it that it is there that elite is becoming more and more a filthy word?

More ironically still, it was Barack Obama who personified this American dream more than anyone. The child of a single mother, brought up without money or power or houses in the Hamptons, he reached the highest office in the land through sheer hard work and force of personality. He has an elite mind, but his family could not be less elitist if it tried. By contrast, George W Bush came from the nearest thing to a dynasty which a young country without an official aristocracy can produce. His family was old school East Coast, with a compound on Kennebunkport, and friends in very high places, most notably the Saudi Royal Family. The Bushes are even related to Winston Churchill, if you believe the internets. Elitist enough for you?

This is why it baffles me that it is the party of George Bush who is always railing against these sinister elites. Do they not see how silly it makes them sound? And on a more general level, would you not want to celebrate elitism? If you have a surgeon operating on you, or a pilot flying the 747 on which you are travelling, or a professor teaching you history, or a scientist working on a possible cure for your mother with Alzheimer's, would you not want them to be the very best in their field? Would you not want them to be qualified and educated and trained up to their elitist ears?

All right. Better now. Time for some pictures of leaves, to calm me down.

This is the acer. Only two days ago it was a nondescript muddy brown. Now look at it. How did that happen?

30th Oct 1

The little Japanese cherry:

30th Oct 2

Fallen leaves, pretending they are in Vermont or somewhere:

30th Oct 3

The new blueberry bush:

30th Oct 4

The view to the south:

30th Oct 5

The eucalyptus, with the thick afternoon light dancing off it:

30th Oct 10

Yearny face:

30th Oct 8

Serious contemplating face:

30th Oct 9

We're just too sexy for our shirts faces:

30th Oct 7

Have a lovely weekend.


  1. As a full-fledged member of the American liberal elite (Seattle native! What could be worse?) I have been so sick of this for years and years-- everything you say here is always playing on a constant loop in a corner of my mind reserved for things that make me so livid I cannot bear them. I live in Texas now-- the liberal part-- and our political ads this year feature the word "liberal" as an obvious slander. It makes me sick, sick, sick.

    I saw Jimmy Carter yesterday at a local book signing and his post-office activities make me proud to think of what liberals actually do in this world.

  2. Ellie - LOVE that you come here all the way from Seattle and Texas. I can just picture you drinking your elitist coffee and watching Jon Stewart. I went to Seattle once, and adored it, especially that glorious market with the crazy fish guys. I never saw Texas though.

  3. Dare I say it? An acer of an article (probably not that elite to use awful puns but I can be very liberal about such things).

    The GOP loves it's elite dynasties just like the Dems - GWB was just quite clever at working at the normal Joe image with his brush clearing and stupid grin (maybe BHO should chop logs or roast a chicken on an open fire).

    Aside from the fact that John Doe / Jane Doe are the police terms for unidentified dead bodies (so making it a very spooky Halloween if they ever made it to the White House) this is an excellent read (and still quite moderate despite the rampant expletives).


  4. Huw - love the pun. Thanks so much for kind words. Feel rather idiotic about John Doe thing. I thought it was rather like saying Joe Bloggs; ie everyman or woman. Is there an American equivalent of that? I really out to change it if there is.

    So agree about the brush clearing by the way; I always found that so bogus.

  5. for liberal substitute parvenu i think it explains the new mood.........

  6. Quite proud to be both liberal and elitist here! That Telegraph blogger seems to have swallowed the Kool Aid propagated by Fox News and its ilk which is nothing to be proud of.

  7. I completely agree and feel frustrated that the word elite is used to denigrate the educated and accomplished. Do we really want "just folks" ruling America? I want someone(much, much) smarter than me. Jon Stewart's rally was wonderful in that he addressed this mud-slinging without taking sides. If elitism is vision, intelligence, experience, then bring it on.

  8. Hi Tania
    The US name for Everyman is Joe Sixpack (think it refers more to the beers than the stomach muscles - did not know that American did irony but there you have it).

    Not sure what they call Everywomen("Ma" perhaps?).


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