Conservative scholar Charles Murray’s article in the Sunday newspaper, about how “the new elite” is out of touch with “mainstream” America, was silly and ultimately rather sad. But it illustrates the fix that the Republican Party is in.
All the energy on the right is coming from the Tea Party Republicans, which leaves conservative scholars and commentators in an uncomfortable position. To stake a role in the latest “revolution” they have to embrace some pretty stupid stuff, and attack the true American values like hard work, making money, buying a house in the suburbs, and getting your kids a good education.
With its sanctification of slothful behavior and woolly thinking--one of Murray’s leading qualifications for being in the American “mainstream” appears to be an appetite for daytime television (bringing to mind Ross Perot’s wonderful quip that he never listened to talk radio because he worked for a living)--the essay must surely have the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, and Russians giggling.
It is bad to study for your SATs or grad school exams, Murray informs us. Educational success will put you among the hated elite, “isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans.” The worst thing you can do is buy a home in a California or New Jersey suburb, or take a job in a high-tech mecca like Austin, Texas, or Silicon Valley or the North Carolina research triangle. And then, God forbid, you’ll no doubt stress the need for a good education at home and force your kids to go to college, and go backpacking on weekends in the national parks.
What is truly American, says Murray (and I am not making this up), is knowing who replaced Bob Barker as the host of The Price Is Right.
I will give this to Murray. He lumps the neoconservatives at the American Enterprise Institute, the rightward-leaning writers at the Weekly Standard, the wealthy Republican suburbs, and the economic libertarians and entrepreneurs of the American financial class into the dreaded meritocracy.
“The bubble that encases the New Elite crosses ideological lines,” he says. “They are … isolated and ignorant. The members of the New Elite may love America, but, increasingly, they are not of it.”
Well, you have probably already gotten to where I am getting. America is a largely urban and suburban country. If you count all the city dwellers, suburbanites, people who watch HBO, financiers, doctors and nurses, skiers, Western backpackers and mountain bikers, teachers, high-tech workers, folks who live on the coasts, scientists, Weekly Standard writers and educated Southerners, and Midwesterners and Westerners as dwellers of “the bubble of privilege” you are shoving about two thirds of Americans (by Murray’s own math) out of the “mainstream.”
It’s the Tea Party types who are out of the “mainstream,” if there is such a thing. Not the rest of us.
Nostalgia is, by definition, sweet. But it’s time for conservatives to drop their Andy Griffith fantasies. They were fun in the 1950s, when China and India and Japan and Germany and Brazil were not our vigorous economic competition. Now they are merely destructive.
The American “mainstream” is not, and better not be, Mayberry. It had better include science and math and ambition and economic literacy and higher education. Or we will all be watching daytime TV.