Friday, June 13, 2008

Elitism: Barack Obama and Applebees

One of the proven ways for casting a villain is to label them 'elite'. You need not look any further than wrestling where elitism sits alongside the "obnoxious foreigner" as a staple villain caricature. Classic "elite" wrestling heels include 'The Blue blood' Hunter Hearst Helmsley and John Bradshaw Layfield.

The masses don't respond well to elites. We like our heroes to be accessible, likable, one of us. It's a curiosity of human nature, we don't mind if our sporting heroes or CEOs are obnoxious as long as they are winning or making the shareholders happy. When it comes to voting where we have a direct influence we will often consider other factors, personality often trumps talent. We want to elect people who we can relate to, someone we can be proud of. We don't judge Idol winners based on signing alone, we don't choose our favourite wrestlers based just on wrestling ability the same way we don't vote for our leaders based just on their policies. Unfortunately it sometimes just comes down to a popularity contest.

People respond actively against people they perceive as elites. That is why it's become a popular charge for politicians, birthing popular cliches like "they're out of touch with main street". Both parties view elitism differently. Liberals see elitism as the opposite of populism, being rich or well educated does not disqualify you from being in touch with the middle class or interested in the welfare of society. It's widely known that many 'Hollywood-types' are liberal, a function of creatives being predominantly left-leaning. This is an easy source of ridicule for critics with the decadence and hypocrisy associated with Hollywood.

Republicans view elitism differently. Whilst the republican base is known for a strong corporate makeup it also has a proud rural, blue-collar contingent. You will often hear variations of the insult "latte-sipping, gay-marryin', limousine elitists" in characterising their opponents. Liberals will often counter by saying that many conservatives vote against their best interests, that issues that like border security, gay rights and abortion that animate the populist wing are merely subterfuge for an agenda that mainly benefits the corporate wing of the party.

Barack Obama is latest politician to be painted as an elite.
Conservative commentator David Brooks famously said of Obama
"It's a big, historic movement, but the magic is not felt by a lot of people. It's not felt, obviously, by a lot of less educated people, downscale people. They just look at Obama, and they don't see anything. And so, Obama's problem is he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee's salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there. And so he's had to change to try to be more like that Applebee's guy, and as he's done that, he's become much more transactional, much more, "I'm going to deliver this, and this, and this for you" on policy.
Read the full transcript from MediaMatters

Jon Stewart has his say on elitism
I know `elite' is a bad word in politics, and you want to go bowling and throw back a few beers, but the job you're applying for? If you get it and it goes well? They might carve your head into a mountain. If you don't actually think you're better than us, then what the **** are you doing?!?

Stephen Colbert with his take on Obama
Is Barack Obama an ‘elitist’? Well, he does want to join a club with only 43 members!

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