The MSN Encarta Dictionary defines “elitist” as “belief in concept of superiority: the belief that some people or things are inherently superior to others and deserve preeminence, preferential treatment, or higher rewards because of their superiority”, or alternately as “belief in control by small group: the belief that government or control should be in the hands of a small group of privileged, wealthy, or intelligent people, or the active promotion of such a system.”
I am highlighting this definition because of the discussion in the US Presidential race and charges being made that Barack Obama is elitist. Politicians are great at throwing around charged political words on the stump, but it is important as thinking people that we take a look at what is being said and what the words actually mean. The Clinton and McCain campaigns have double-teamed Obama on his statement that people in small towns who have been hurt by the economy feel like the government is doing anything for them calling him elitist and out of touch with the people.
Here are the quotes that have been picked out by Clinton and McCain:
"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them,"
"And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
I am not going to discuss the greater context of the speech. You can find info on that here. What I want to focus on is what Obama actually said above, as opposed to what Clinton/McCain want you to think it means.
The first statement is absolutely true, and not just about Pennsylvania. There are many cities across the Midwest (including my home of Buffalo, NY) that used to rely on manufacturing that have been floundering for the past 25 years as jobs have evaporated or relocated to places like Mexico, China and elsewhere. Obama then goes on to highlight that both Clinton the First and Bush the Second promised to improve these conditions and have not done so.
Obama then indicates that many of the people in these communities feel bitter. Merriam Webster defines bitter as “expressive of severe pain, grief, or regret”. Tell me what family that has seen their jobs disappear and gone from living the American Dream to just holding on does not feel bitter about how their lives have turned out? This is hardly out of touch with reality, but would seem to be an accurate reflection of the anger in the working class of America. How many times have you heard people talking about the state of the nation and saying that we need to take our country back? How many times have you heard people happily talking about the price of gas or heating their homes or inflation in food prices. Are people happy about these things?
The Clinton campaign in particular has hit Obama hard about the “clinging” portion of the above speech. What Obama said is that because people do not feel they will be heard on economic issues they end up voting on wedge issues. “The economy isn’t going to change, but at least we can keep those damned illegal immigrants out”, or “The economy sucks but they won’t take my guns away”.
The sad part of all of what he said is that he is exactly correct, and he is the only politician running for major office who is being honest about it. He is in touch with reality and with the feelings of the electorate. Clinton and McCain can not go down this road because they are beholden to corporate interests, unlike Obama. So they pick out pieces of his speech and attack him sound-byte style. But they have nothing. Both Clinton and McCain are just trying to hold on to the old reins of political power. The problem is that there’s a new politics out there, and it’s up to us to make sure that those who represent us, the people, have a chance to make it happen.
So don’t take my words as unerringly true, and certainly don’t take the McCain/Clinton camps words as true. If you want to know what Obama really said, go online and find the full recording and listen. You can find it through www.huffingtonpost.com.