Rod Dreher

John O’Sullivan, commenting on Gordon Brown’s gaffe:

What makes this much more than simply embarrassing for Labour is that it illustrates the private contempt of Left elites for ordinary Labour voters, with their old-fashioned patriotic and conservative social prejudices on immigration and much else.

I think this is true, and it’s true in America as well. But I think it’s also true for elites on the Right, but in a somewhat different way. I think some Right elites don’t mind showing private contempt, a la Gordon Brown, for the values of ordinary Republican voters (I’m thinking of what Evangelical David Kuo wrote about how the office of Faith-Based Initiatives, where he worked, was really viewed by senior Bush White House staffers). But I think it more likely that Right elites tell themselves they identify with the values of their base, and they really do believe it, but when it comes to legislating, they prove otherwise.
I don’t wish to make a political point here, but rather an observation about the mindset of elites, with reference to the working and lower middle classes. Writing in Salon, Gabriel Winant lays down some interesting thoughts about how politicians today, in both Britain and the U.S., really don’t identify with these people, though they pretend to. He’s talking mostly about liberal politicians (Salon being a liberal magazine), but I think his basic point is universal to the leadership class.
What’s interesting, at least to me, is the fiction that elites in democracies — in politics and in other areas — have to maintain that they really are in touch with the values of the People. The world I’ve moved in most of my professional life is journalism, where the prevailing myth is that we journalists are on the side of the people, against the powerful. It’s as self-serving as it is untrue. In point of fact, the interests we have nearly coincide with those of educated middle-class American liberals. Again, I’m not trying to make a political point here; it’s a sociological and cultural one. The put-upon minorities American journalism is concerned about are racial and sexual; it could hardly care less about the white working class and its concerns, except to highlight them as a danger.
But not only the white working class: when I worked for a Florida newspaper, the newsroom diversity czar was awfully proud of the rainbow newsroom we had — whites, blacks, Hispanics, gays, straights, the whole megillah — and didn’t seem to understand my point when I said that despite there being a significant Pentecostal/charismatic Christian presence in our area, the only Pentecostals/charismatics in the newsroom were the black secretaries. Similarly, when I worked in New York, the vast number of black and Hispanic Evangelical and charismatic Christians in the city, all in the outer boroughs, were largely invisible to elite journalists. As were their concerns.
Look, I can’t judge from a position of purity. I am an educated, urban middle-class person, and though my religion and my politics are conservative, I am part of an elite that doesn’t have a lot in common with large numbers of people who pledge allegiance to my political, religious and cultural “side.” It has been a useful experience, working within American journalism as a religious and political conservative, and seeing, and feeling, what it’s like to be an outsider. I think it has given me a greater appreciation for what it was like years ago, and may well still be like, to have been black, gay, a woman, etc., trying to work within institutions that didn’t see the world as you did.
I hope, though, that I am at least aware of my own biases, and try to compensate for them when I think about what the right thing to do is in certain political situations, and so forth. For example:

For people of my social and cultural class, illegal immigration isn’t a problem. It staffs the restaurants we love, it gets our grass cut, and it offers us a chance to preen morally about how open we are to diversity, etc. But for some of the folks I met in Dallas, it was a completely different matter. Yes, there was some racism there, no question. But these were also people whose neighborhoods were changing, and not for the better, because of immigration and crime. These were people who didn’t have a choice about sending their kids to private schools, and whose public schools were being overcrowded by children who spoke no English, and who had to be taught somehow. These were people whose economic circumstances forced them to depend on public hospitals for care, and who had trouble getting into those hospitals because the waiting rooms were jammed with illegal immigrants. And so forth.
Generally speaking, we journalists don’t really care about those people, except to dismiss them privately, among ourselves, as bigots. Maybe they are bigots to a certain extent. But so are we, and we are bigoted against … them. (If we define “bigoted” as having malign prejudices unsupported by the facts). But because of our own class and cultural biases, we don’t see it. Epistemic closure, again. As Gabriel Winant observes:

Something’s not working about the post-industrial economy, either in Britain or in the U.S. With economic growth limited to the rich few, a feeling sets in of being abandoned by haughty elites and their impenetrable institutions , among which are the free labor markets that drive immigration. And then, when they catch a glimpse of this anger, leaders like Brown don’t know what to do or say except to condemn.

Exactly. And politicians of the left and the right aren’t the only ones at fault.
(In the discussion thread that follows, please refrain from turning this into a politically partisan bash-fest; let’s instead talk about elitism and its manifestations.)
UPDATE: The political theorist Joseph Schumpeter’s opinion that over time, elites will come to identify (unconsciously) the interests of their own class with the interests of the whole, might apply here.

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