May 2, 2008

What Orwell Can Teach Obama

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , , — Volt @ 9:12 am

Jeff Greenfield, Slate Magazine, May 2, 2008

Elitism has bedeviled American liberalism for the better part of four decades. It undermined the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry, and now it’s making mischief in the Obama campaign every bit as much as the omnipresence of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The charge that liberal candidates don’t connect with or understand the values and beliefs of regular Americans is embedded in old epithets like “limousine liberal,” which I first heard aimed at New York Mayor John Lindsay in 1969. It was also at the core of “radical chic,” the phrase made famous by Tom Wolfe in his savage 1970 account in New York magazine of a fund-raising party for the Black Panthers thrown by Leonard Bernstein and his wife in their Park Avenue duplex. (Wolfe didn’t invent the term, but he gave it currency.)

There’s also an even older and more illuminating antecedent from across the Atlantic: the writings of George Orwell in England in the late 1930s, which describe a version of elitism that echoes powerfully in our current political battle.

Orwell’s 1937 book The Road to Wigan Pier is an account of his travels to England’s industrial North, to the towns of Barnsley, Sheffield, and Wigan. Orwell—once a scholarship student at Eton—wrote of everything from conditions in the coal mines to the homes, diets, and health of desperately poor miners. He himself was a socialist who could also turn a critical eye on the British left, and in the middle of the book, he devoted a chapter to the failure of socialism to gain a foothold among the very citizens who would have seemed to benefit most from its rise. Substitute liberal or progressive for socialist, and the text often reads as though Orwell were covering American politics today.

“Everyone who uses his brain knows that Socialism, is a way out [of the worldwide depression,]” Orwell writes. “It would at least ensure our getting enough to eat, even if it deprived us of everything else. Indeed, from one point of view, Socialism is such an elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already.” And yet, he adds, “the average thinking person nowadays is merely not a Socialist, he is actively hostile to Socialism. … Socialism … has about it something inherently distasteful—something that drives away the very people who ought to be flocking it its support.”

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  1. Very interesting article Volt and so very true.

    Comment by kerry — May 2, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  2. My favorite line:

    “One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist and feminist in England.”

    Except I’m not a Quaker.

    Comment by Danger Bear — May 2, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

  3. LOL, Danger Bear.

    This is from Jeff Greenfield, one of the most willing Bush bobbleheads of the Media Elite, as proven when he discounted Ohio exit polling showing Kerry winning the state live on CNN in 2004.

    I keep meeting all kinds of blue-collar vets and working-class folks who drink Starbuck’s coffee and imported beer, and are even known to eat arugula in a salad — it’s available at Bennigan’s, TGIF and Olive Garden, after all — and chow down on wine and cheese now and then. A guy I know who’s a union pipefitter even makes his own Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

    This bullshit portrait of the ‘average American’ is being made by media elitists who really have no idea what people out in Fly-Over Country are doing or thinking — instead they rely on stereotypes from 1950s movies. Jesus, they even talk about ‘lunch bucket’ hardhat construction workers — I know some of these guys — they haven’t carried lunch buckets in forty years and one of them is an Nam-vet vegetarian who eats tofu and, yep, arugula. I’d like that little weasel Greenfield to tell him to his face he’s some kind of elitist and not a regular American.

    Comment by RS Janes — May 3, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

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