Perhaps it’s just me, but each time I hear the accusation that Obama is an elitist, I want to go ballastic on somebody. So imagine my frustraion when I heard it YET AGAIN after the first presidential debate. What started off as a pretty ill-informed comment during the Democratic primaries has turned into an accusation that has come to define much of the opposition the Senator from Illinois has received during his run for the White House. It boggles my mind on how this notion has gone uncontested by anybody in the media up to date.
Fortunately for Sen. Obama, I’m here to do the dirty work the media has failed to do.
In its simplest form: elitists are members of a small but powerful class of privileged socialites. These elites were often made up of people whose status was not necessarily obtained meritously, but rather though lineage. Simply put, they were born into their status. The rules and social order of the day are usually dictated by that same small and affluent group. Yet, some of Obama’s earned characteristics have someone added him to this group.
Contrary to opinion, being an ‘elitist’ isn’t positing that you are somehow more intelligent than everyone else (though I can’t recall a time where Obama has even hinted this). There is another word for that: narcissistic. Similarly, isn’t just thinking that you’re smarter than you may actually be. We refer to those types of people as haughty. It’s not using lofty (and occasionally obscure) language to make a point. No. We call that being ostentatious. Having confidence in your abilities to run the country is…well…just that: it’s confidence; confidence which, by the way, was shared by every single candidate who have ever run for President.
That being the case, I would hardly call Sen. Obama an elitist. I can, however, think of a few modern-day folks; none of whom are named Obama; who split that bill.
For starters, we can turn our attention to our current leader: one George W. Bush. Following his family tree will take you through an entire directory of wealth, prominence, and legacy. From his good ole rich daddy, President Bush the first, to Senator and Wall Street banker Prescott Bush (grandfather), to his wealthy industrialist great-grandfather Sam Prescott Bush; to his other wealthy great-grandfather (through marriage) George Herbert Walker; Dubya’s blood is rich with legacy. But how often is he brought into the discussion about being elitist?
When we think about elitists serving in the political arena, few names come to mind quicker than “Kennedy”. Similarly to Dubya, Senator Ted is a product of a long and prominent family. His father Joseph was a powerful businessman and political force. Immediately preceding him was Ted’s grandfather, P.J. Kennedy; yet another powerful player. Incidentally, P.J.’s rise to prominence was a little more merit-based, but still paved the way for his descendants.
Then, we come to Senator John McCain. His trail of elitism starts from high ranking father Admiral John S. McCain, Jr.; who made it possible for Johnny Mac to get into the Naval Academy. But this wasn’t before another powerful McCain, John Sr. used his influence to provide for McCain Jr. Going a little further down the line, we have the original John Sidney McCain; plantation owner. Of course, if we felt so inclined we could also take a climb up Cindy’s richer family tree.
The point of this post is not to villify affluent families. This is simply a challenge for people to reexamine who they label elitist. Though it defeats people’s claims, Sen. Obama did not have his life set to cruise control the moment he was conceived. Being raised as a single child, only meeting his immigrant father once, and living on welfare hardly constitute an elitist life. Even if his Ivy-League education is brought into the discussion, his attendance at Columbia and Harvard wasn’t the product of a back-room arrangement or established by a legacy of powerful people. Once he obtained his Ivy League education, he didn’t head toward Wall Street, the elite capitol of the world. He headed to the courtroom to represent some of the poorest people in Chicago as a civil rights attorney. He did community organizing work in Chicago. You remember: the same work that a certain Alaskan Governor and her GOP minions mocked? As an “elitist”, he did some of the dirtiest, most non-elitist work one can imagine.
To refer to Obama as an “elitist” is more than just a harmless opinion. It is complete misunderstanding of what makes an elitist and is a complete dismissal of those who truly wear that badge. Although I’ve only cited three in this post, the list of affluent families and their heirs dating back to the 200+ years is pretty long. Nowhere on that list will you see the Obama family.
For the sake of this presidential campaign: in the one corner, we have a man who grew up in a low-middle class household, struggled with racial identiy for most of his life, and abandoned the opportunity to land a high-profile corporate life. In the other corner, we have a wealthy man (with thirteen cars, seven homes, and a private jet) who came from a slave owner. Remind me again: which one should be in the center of the elitist conversation again?