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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

How did you know, Mr. Alternman, how did you know? you knew this on March 27 and here we are on April 14. I didn't know how they were going to distort and destroy Senator Obama, but they sure can destroy a person. Can they get away with it? Are we so gullible as to let them get away with this time, or are we paying more attention? Why is the media going along with this without asking real questions about what the man really said?

This man is a real scrapper and can't be discounted this easily, can he?How can the choice be between; a pathological liar, a dithering old man and a real intelligent young scrapper? Can we trust people who will resort to leaving the bathroom flush to others?

James Pinette

Caribou, ME

Apr 14 2008 - 7:54pm

Web Letter

The article contains a number of references to the education credentials of conservatives, as though this shows some kind of hypocrisy. The terms "academics" and "education elite" are not about those who went to school and got a degree. They are about those who run the schools and the education system. The "Ivory Tower" doesn't refer to students, or those who graduate and go out into the real world

It seems to be implied in the article that the words "intellectual elite" reflect a contempt for intelligence. It doesn't, or people like W.F. Buckley and other brilliant conservatives would not be as admired as they are. "Intellectual elite" has an exact meaning: it's someone who thinks their intelligence or education makes them inherently better than everyone else, and therefore qualified to tell them how to live.

It is true that both liberal and conservative movers and shakers are often wealthy, living in gated communities, going to private schools and belonging to the best clubs. But only the liberal ones talk about taking control of the lives of the "little people" for their own good, since if they were left to their own devices they would obviously make the wrong choices. That's elitism--not where you went to school or where you live.

I don't worry about Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich telling me what light bulbs I'm allowed to buy, where I should be getting my medical care, what car I should drive or whether I'm qualified to educate my own kids.

Laura Ingraham had this list: "They think we're stupid. They think our patriotism is stupid. They think our churchgoing is stupid. They think our flag-flying is stupid. They think having big families is stupid. They think where we live--anywhere but near or in a few major cities--is stupid. They think our SUVs are stupid. They think owning a gun is stupid. They think our abiding belief in the goodness of America and its founding principles is stupid."

This is not put in a sophisticated way, but it's still true. This attitude is reflected in liberal actions and words almost every day. It oozes out of your own publication from every seam. There are examples in your own article.

Tom Brosz

Sunnyvale, CA

Apr 14 2008 - 12:59pm

Web Letter

"They think we're stupid. They think our patriotism is stupid. They think our churchgoing is stupid. They think our flag-flying is stupid. They think having big families is stupid. They think where we live--anywhere but near or in a few major cities--is stupid. They think our SUVs are stupid. They think owning a gun is stupid."

I didn't see Mr. Alterman deny that.

Mark Schafron

Boston, MA

Apr 14 2008 - 12:41pm

Web Letter

Like many clichés, the myth of the "elitist liberal" contains a small kernel of truth. Senator Obama has made a big splash by remarking that people "are angry. They feel like they've been left behind," and that "there are a bunch of folks in small towns...who are bitter." Senator Obama just described a big slice of my life--at various times I have been left behind (unemployed, injured and without health insurance), angry, bitter and depressed. Every working-class American I know has seen it happen, and we all fear it.

Conventional wisdom states that the Republicans have steamrolled the Constitution and rammed this war down our throats through a craven use of 9/11. The Republicans are fear mongers, and good ones, but we must ask ourselves why they succeeded so well. They did well because we were fearful all along. I am a 55-year-old industrial building tradesman, and the professional and political elements of my life have been dominated by cutthroat, back-stabbing, winner-take-all competition. If you lose here, you don't just slide down a couple of notches like in some civilized country. If you lose here, you can lose it all--college for the kids, the house, healthcare, then maybe your health as well. That kind of stress has been the middle class lot for thirty years, and the only wonder is why it took this long to hatch out our fears.

Now everyone is talking about wealth and income inequality because... wait for it... it's not just bad for people, it's bad for the economy. You think?

This is where the "elitist" kernel of truth comes in. The Republican Party ignores working-class economic issues as a matter of idealogy and policy. The Democratic Party ignores us because it can, and because it is too fearful to specifically and adamently take a stand for our oldest and most cherished party value--economic justice. The Democrats also tend to recruit our backs and hands, while ignoring our brains and spirits. The last election I worked in was 2004, and we were only good for manning phone banks and going door to door. That's a long way from Eugene Debs, Phillip Randolph and Walter Reuther.

When was the last time the Democratic Party really solicited the ideas of the working class? And conversely, when was the last time the American working class forced its way onto the public stage and consistently and eloquently declared what we stand for? The two are related, and both the workers and the party are much the worse for not accomplishing either fact.

So here's a thought. Senator Obama has some fences to mend with Pennsylvania working stiffs, and he used to work with steelworkers on the South Side of Chicago. (I am from the South Side, and I used to work in those mills, and those guys needed people like the young Barack Obama, full of energy, vision and, most importantly, compassion.) So Senator, why not call some of those steelworkers and have them help you out. The Vietnam Vets did it for John Kerry--why not South Side Steelworkers for Obama?

Or is this still the country where you can talk about war if you're a warrior, but you can't talk about the economy if you're a worker? If that's the case, it's time to find out.

Bill Doyle

Valparaiso, IN

Apr 14 2008 - 3:31am

Web Letter

Michael McKinlay in his earlier web letter nails this debate. It's rich coming from Alterman--who no doubt had to fight his way up through the ranks of progressive journalism to reach where he is today--to say either (a) the liberal elite doesn't exist; or (b) the conservative elite is even more of an elite than the liberal elite. Anyone who has lived "out in the country" for the last twenty-five years knows the "elite with a largely liberal sensibility" has been talking down to them from the morning they wake up until the moment they fall asleep, 24/7, nailing them into the coffin of some strange dystopia where they reap no benefits but get all the blame. What is true is that since Alterman is a columnist at The Nation, he basically can't be trusted to know anything about it, and his words are worse than meaningless, but for the most part are probably poison. That basically goes without saying if you've been paying any attention to the "liberal elite" the last twenty-five years, although one must admit that monolothic blocks of opinion, given the internet, cable etc., are breaking up and becoming more diffuse. That would indeed seem to be the next story. But facts are facts. I say this as generally calling myself "a radical" in my best moments, and far too "New Left Libertarian" to be in any way considered "a liberal." I guess Mr. Alterman--who I know shares a passion for all things Springsteen and other things "of the left" with me--just see differently on it. Where does he live? New York? I was born there. Moved away long ago.

Sherlock Debs

San Diego, CA

Apr 13 2008 - 11:27am

Web Letter

While Alterman is certainly correct about Republican agitprop--it's easy to be correct about Republican agitprop--he certainly fails to notice one reality when complaining of accusations of a "liberal" (or really, for him, Democratic Party) elite. Has he noticed that the national party's nomination race is currently being torn apart by an ending contest between a relative outsider and newcomer, and the two most entrenched elite figures in the party?

It's undeniably true that the Democratic Party has an elite, or, as Alterman replied in e-mail to my question to him years ago, regarding his unending bashing of Ralph Nader--"Do you just want the country run by elite party insiders?" is what I wrote--"Of course the country is run by elites, and it should be. The question is which elites."

Seymour Friendly

Seattle, WA

Apr 13 2008 - 10:45am

Web Letter

Thanks to Alterman for taking on this topic. I 've often wondered how those conservative pundits who celebrate Red America would justify living in DC, NYC, Boston or San Francisco if they were asked. But then no one has interrogated them on the gulf between their supposed admiration for Kansas City, NASCAR, high-school football and their own lifestyles. What if we liberal elitists seceded and took our Blue States with us? Would Buchanan, Coulter, P.J. O'Rourke, and their friends happily settle down in Keokuk, Iowa or Oklahoma City?

These attacks on elitism also demonstrate the gulf between current "conservatives" and traditional, or real, conservatives, the ones worthy of the name--an extinct breed. Boston Brahmins and Upper East Siders of the past century or two would have defended the idea of elitism just as they would have defended high culture and openly despised the boondocks. Now we have the worst of both worlds: rich, powerful, hypocritical, self-righteous philistines.

Not long ago I looked through Buckley's first book, God and Man at Yale. It was unreadably glib and polemical, but I did learn that Buckley was riled up against the university back in the late 1940s. It's not that on or about May 1, 1968, everything changed. Reactionary jeremiads about liberalism are more longstanding than the decade on to which they now lay all the blame. Buckley's book laid the groundwork for the current and spurious crusade against "political correctness," by which they really mean the Enlightenment ideas that inspired the founders of this country.

So who's un-American?

Carol V. Hamilton

Pittsburgh, PA

Apr 6 2008 - 2:34pm

Web Letter

There is another side of this that I have never understood. Conservatives talk about the "liberal elite" as an oppressor. Even when they gain political power (Congress in the 1990s, Bush in 2000), they pose themselves as the "victim" of the liberal press. Even as they dominate radio talk shows and cable news, they are the Davids fighting the Goliaths of the "liberal establishment."

Even when Bush invaded Iraq, they complained about the liberal criticism against it.

In certain respects, this reflects the the genius of conservative public opinion appeals. But it also underscores an insecurity. As long as conservative pundits and analysts insist on blaming all ills of the country on the liberal elite, they strike the pose of a hollow, "backlash" movement that depends on defining themselves against "the enemy" for survival.

Carlyn Meyer

Chicago, IL

Apr 4 2008 - 9:38pm

Web Letter

So according to conservatives, "elite" must mean anyone with intelligent, independent thought.

They'd love for the population to remain dumb so they can continue exploiting them. If only the middle class would realize this is nothing but a sophisticated form of feudalism.

We are serfs. And as long as the serfs remain ignorant of that fact, the kings will rule.

Jasmine Bryant

Los Angeles, CA

Apr 4 2008 - 7:04pm

Web Letter

Well, it's the pot calling the kettle black I'm afraid. There is a liberal elite and the conservatives have their elite. And both are invested in the same hierarchy.

The liberal elite comes from those very same schools, live the very same lifestyle, though more casually and defend the very same institutions as the conservative elite. One only has to look at the maps for political donations around New York and California to see the red and the blue dots of political investment.

The conservative elite has mastered the narrative and the art of labeling, the liberal elite has not. The conservative elite has to do little save ridicule, slander and corporate pandering with free market mantras whereas actually getting anything done requires some ones ox be gored.

One need only look at Wall Street to see liberal elitism in the form of Robert Rubin. In fact Wall Street is now giving more to Democrats than Republicans.

You see the liberal elite think that our current system can be reformed with regulation and handouts. They fail to realize that radical reform is needed in all our most important institutions. They gasp when one of their own advocates for scrapping the WTO or invokes the word 'tariff'.

A new agenda for real liberalism is to reorganize our financial system around a Public Central Bank. They fail to follow through on real political reform like publicly financed campaigns. There is no stomach to cut the military budget in half. Calls for tax reform are half hearted and ill conceived. In short the liberal elites have been pummeled by their counterparts the conservative elites who have through thick and thin stuck to their guns about where they wanted to take the country by wrapping their narrative with slogans and labels that comfort the deceived while labeling liberals as the villlains.

The liberal elite has no leadership, no commitment other than to the very institutions that support the powers that be. In short, they are gutless wonders nuancing issues and ideas that are part and parcel of the narrative of the current plutocracy. Until liberals call for real reform and offer real leadership with a convincing narrative the story remains the same.

Michael McKinlay

Hercules, CA

Apr 3 2008 - 5:54pm