How do you define the elite?

Charles Murray wrote an op-ed article in the Washington Post a couple of weeks back about how our political discourse is dominated by an elite cut off from the experience of ordinary Americans.  He defined this elite in cultural terms.  They are likely to watch “Mad Men” rather than “The Price Is Right” on TV, and go backpacking rather than drive a recreational vehicle.

I think he is right to say an elite exists, but he doesn’t quite get around to mentioning its defining characteristic.  The list below provides a hint as to what the characteristic is.

Annual hauls by selected talkers:

Rush Limbaugh $58.7 million

Glenn Beck $33 million

Sean Hannity $22 million

Bill O’Reilly $20 million

Jon Stewart $15 million

Don Imus $11 million

Keith Olbermann $7.5 million

Laura Ingraham $7 million

Stephen Colbert $5 million

Arianna Huffington $5 million

Chris Matthews $4.5 million

Rachel Maddow $2 million

Jon Meacham $2 million

via Daily Howler.

Pretty soon President Obama’s deficit commission will make its report.  Its membership is stacked with critics of Social Security  It is expected to recommend changing the formula for calculating Social Security benefits and raising the age for maximum benefits.

I expect the majority of self-identified conservatives in Washington to respond with a renewed all-out assault on Social Security. I expect the majority of self-identified liberals in Washington to express minor caveats but add that some sacrifice is necessary for fiscal austerity.  I doubt if many who talk like this have in mind 80-year-old widows whose Social Security is their sole income, or unemployed 55-year-olds who will never hold another full-time job in their lives, or 60-year-olds who are marking time until they no longer have to come home from work with aching feet and backs.  The sacrifice is the sacrifice of their own mild feelings of compassion.

It is common to speak, as Charles Murray does, of a liberal elite, but the word “liberal” has changed its meaning over time.  “Liberal” no longer means someone who supports the interests of working people.  I know more self-identified liberals who march in Gay Pride parades (which is fine) than in Labor Day parades.

Click on The tea party warns of a New Elite.  They’re right for Charles Murray’s complete article in the Washington Post.   Murray writes that belonging to a Rotary Club or taking an ocean cruise are marks of the non-elite.  But there are tens of millions of Americans for whom those very things would be an elite aspiration.

Click on The Social Buckwork for Bob Somerby’s comment  on The Daily Howler web log.

Click on Newsweek’s Power 50 for Newsweek’s complete list of top commentators and their incomes.

Click on Meet The 18 People Who Could Determine The Fate of Social Security for profiles of members of the deficit commission.  Very few are advocates for retirees and pensioners.

[Update 11/11/10]

Click on U.S. Debt Proposal Would Cut Social Security, Taxes, Medicare for a report on proposals by the deficit commission’s co-chairs.

Click on Debt Commission Seeks Social Security Cuts and Tax Increases for another report on the proposals.

Click on There is no report from the fiscal commission for a reminder that the proposals being considered by the commission are not the report and recommendation of the commission.

[Update 11/12/10]

It is pretty clear that the deficit commission proposals have less to do with reducing the deficit than with shifting the burden of government downward and its benefits upward.

Click on The Hijacked Commission and Unserious People for Paul Krugman’s good analysis of what it all means.

The middle class is treading water, the working class is drowning, and the nation’s infrastructure is disintegrating, and the elitists in Washington say what’s needed is to get tougher with ordinary Americans, while making things easier for the very rich.  And all this, which was completely predictable, was set in motion, bear in mind, by a Democratic President.

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5 Responses to “How do you define the elite?”

  1. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    When have conservatives engaged in an all out assault on social security?


    • philebersole Says:

      When? Pretty much continuously from the days of Alf Landon (“a cruel hoax”, “a fraud on the working man”) to Alan Simpson (“a milk cow with 310 million tits”)

      I consider the privatization campaign, which was suggested by Barry Goldwater, endorse by Ronald Reagan and pushed hard by George W. Bush, an assault on Social Security.

      You as a self-identified conservative appear to regard my remark as a slur. Does that mean you are a proponent and defender of Social Security?


  2. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    I hope to get social security. You said “all out assault”. I think you mean it as an exaggeration.

    I hadn’t thought of the privatization thing when I asked my question. I think privatization is dead for now, but have no evidence.


  3. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    Professional liberal curmudgeon Fran Lebowitz defines the Republican definition of elites for us:

    “Ms. LEBOWITZ: Well, I defend certain kind of elitism. In other words, when -oh, I don’t know, Republicans, for instance, you know, disparage elites, they don’t mean rich people. They love rich people. You know, they mean smart people. They don’t mind elite athletes. They use that phrase all the time. They love elite soldiers, you know? So we know what they mean when they say elite. And so, you know, it’s not true.

    CONAN: Isn’t it another way of continuing the culture war that we’ve read about, again, for – well, nigh unto to four decades?

    Ms. LEBOWITZ: Yeah. I mean, it’s – of course, if you hold the positions these people hold, you naturally would be weary of the person of intelligence, because a person of intelligence can see that these positions are grotesque.

    CONAN: And persons of intelligence, that’s defined by what, meritocracy?
    Ms. LEBOWITZ: It’s defined by me. “


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