Real Americans have never cottoned much to “elites.”
True, we’re not supposed to criticize hedge-fund managers who make a billion dollars a year yet whine about their taxes — that would be class warfare. We can’t point out the immense political power that the Citizens United decision handed to corporations, because corporations are just citizens who happen to pay less taxes than the rest of us. And we certainly can’t take note of the fact that so much of the income growth of the past 30 years has concentrated in the hands of a very small percentage of Americans, because after all, nobody ever got a job from a poor person.
But “ruling-class elites”? Why, we’re all agin ‘em!
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House who made himself rich as a conduit for corporate largess and propaganda, rails against the elites regularly before returning home to McLean, Va., where the median household income is a cool $156,292. Sarah Palin travels with her entourage in Lear jets and gets paid $75,000 a whack to spread her message of solidarity to the little people of America.
Christine O’Donnell, who clearly hopes to join both their company and tax bracket, also made it a point to condemn “the ruling class elites” in her recent speech to the Values Voters Summit. And to prove she meant it, she endorsed extending tax cuts for the richest 1 percent of Americans and ending extended benefits for the long-term unemployed.
“The ruling class elites may try, but they will never have the last word on liberty,” O’Donnell told the cheering crowd of conservatives. “There’s something about our national DNA that insists on shouting at those who would be our masters, ‘You’re not the boss of me!’”
That phrase, “‘You’re not the boss of me,” comes from the theme song of “Malcolm in the Middle.” Like “Don’t Tread on Me,” it represents a genuinely populist sentiment expressed in genuinely populist terms, even if it’s employed in defense of policies that benefit the very elite it supposedly condemns.
You see, that’s the utility of people such as Palin and O’Donnell — their willful ignorance of that disconnect allows them to say the words with absolute sincerity and authenticity. It’s a trick that the guileful Gingrich can’t quite pull off, although it can be funny to see him try.
The real fun, though, comes when high-church, elitist conservatives try to come down among the people and join in the chorus of elitist-bashing. That’s when the strain between reality and illusion really becomes comic.
Michael Beran Knox, writing about O’Donnell and the elites, provides an unintentionally hilarious example of the genre in a piece in National Review Online.
Knox acknowledges that O’Donnell’s candidacy is a little peculiar, but he nonetheless admires “her cheerful excoriation of the pathologies of America’s ‘ruling-class elites.’”
“Her bête noire,” Knox writes, “is the elitist who has embraced the intrusive social state. The social creed was once the philosophy of rebels against established order; but, as Lionel Trilling long ago showed, it has become inseparable from a vision of power and mastery. The social idealist, Trilling said in 1948, is one ‘who takes license from his ideals for the unrestrained exercise of power.’ The ‘ultimate threat to human freedom,’ he wrote in a sympathetic account of George Orwell’s thought, could well come from a ‘massive development of the social idealism of our democratic culture’.”
What I think he’s trying to say is: “You’re not the boss of me.”
Knox also explains where O’Donnell got the idea that you shouldn’t lie even to save Jews from Hitler’s stormtroopers. You see, “she holds Immanuel Kant’s view that to tell a lie is always wrong.”
According to Knox’s author bio, this anti-elitist rabble-rouser, this plain-spoken defender of the common man, was educated at Columbia University, the University of Cambridge and Yale Law School. He works as an attorney and resides in Westchester County, N.Y., the seventh wealthiest county per capita in the country.
On his off-hours there, the squire of Westchester is no doubt working hard on his upcoming book, “Pathology of the Elites: How the Arrogant Classes Plan to Run Your Life.”
And no, you can’t make this stuff up. At least I can’t.