Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Radical Elite

"The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition." Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, in The Washington Post, April 27th
When the always-on-top-of-the-most-conventional-and-conservative-wisdom Washington Post begins to take notice of the Republican Party's radicalism, you know it's become radical indeed. But, it is important, I think, to point out that this is a radicalism embraced by a significant portion of the nation's elite and those in the affluent and often educated classes who see their interests most closely aligned with that elite.

The Tea Party isn't a pack of working class yahoos. Tea Partiers are, in general, more educated and affluent, not less so, than the general population. And the embrace of romance novelist Ayn Rand's loony ideas isn't thriving among the poor and downtrodden -- those ideas hold their greatest appeal to our affluent and elite financial classes, and wield the greatest influence among members of that class who have served in, and are served by, our government.

Today's yahoos most often have a college education, a good job in an industry that is heavily supported by government spending, and the kind of retirement package that for most other Americans is just a curious relic of someone else's past.

Is this "radicalism" often cynical and self-serving on the part of our elites -- and has the corporate and business world increasingly come to believe that what you say is judged by how it sells, not how closely it aligns with the truth or how absurdly it wanders into fantasy? Yes. But it is a mistake to think cynicism is the only, or even most important, explanation.

The older, whiter, more male and more affluent base of the party doesn't embrace these ideas just out of cynicism and self-interest -- it embraces them out of a self-interested cluelessness based in limited, privileged experience; an inability to see, understand and accept the economic change, and social, economic and other poor consequences of that change that have taken place over the last 30-50 years. Changes encouraged by policies they have supported; policies that have benefitted the eldest and most elite while often causing harm to other Americans, most especially younger Americans.

The older, whiter, more affluent Americans who support the Republican Party are drawn from the most privileged generations in the history of the world. Generations that during their own youth, especially if they were white and male, were the recipients of the greatest public investment in their economic future of any generations in history.

These were generations in which even unionized, working class parents could afford to send their children to college, secure their own retirement and acquire valuable assets for those children to inherit, generations in which the very bright sons of unionized postmen and plumbers were being given access to the most elite colleges and invited into the elite financial world, generations that now see themselves as "meritocrats" while systematically working to undermine the conditions and structures that made their "meritocratic" rise possible.

In other words, these radicals are often the most privileged, the most spoiled, people in the nation.

Everyone, left, right and center, defends their self-interest in the political arena. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as we understand those interests in the context of competing interests and the greater good. In fact, if we don't understand our own self interest we are unlikely to understand, and respect, those interests that conflict with ours -- and we have no grounds for compromise.

But, the radicalism of the Republican Party reflects the limited and increasingly fantastical views of a uniquely privileged group of Americans who recognize no interests but their own, and who's interests, and understanding, have become increasingly detached from the better interests, and experienced realities, of the nation as a whole.


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