‘Elitist’ Tells the Truth

By Art Cullen

A farmer with a fistful of newspaper clippings stopped by Monday morning to complain about government: Congress in 1981 declaring itself exempt from income taxes, county officials screwing him on drainage assessments. A retired small businessman emails to complain about food prices and ethanol, cigarette taxes and my cowardice.


We in rural Iowa couldn’t be.

Only an elitist would think so, say McCain and Clinton.

A young man stood in the checkout lane at the grocery store Sunday ogling the back-page ad in a magazine featuring a huge handgun. He wants it. His girlfriend likes it, too.

Obama might as well have been talking about the Fifth Congressional District in Western Iowa when he said, in the liberal elite capital of San Francisco, that rural white voters in Pennsylvania were “bitter” after years of economic calamity to which government does not respond.

We lead the state in population loss. Manufacturing wages do not keep pace with inflation. Schools are in trouble. Meth is the drug of choice. Our new jail is triple the size of the one built in the 1970s. Casinos rule the Iowa Statehouse.

McCain finds Obama’s remarks condescending. Clinton calls him elitist.

For telling the truth.

Tom Frank wrote a book, What’s the Matter with Kansas, in which he explored why poor rural white people vote against their economic interests and in favor of candidates who run on guns, God and flags.

Obama spoke about the book in 2004. He made the mistake of talking about its themes during his presidential campaign. People who are disenfranchised are drawn to wedge issues like abortion, gun rights and immigration while they go without health insurance. Dick Cheney gets a tax break but he can handle a shotgun, so he’s okay.

We elect Steve King to Congress because he runs against Mexicans and for kicking some Arab booty, even if that kicking has proven disastrous for the millennia (see the Crusades for reference).

King votes against expanding health insurance for the children of the working poor.

King reflects his district. He is no elitist. That does not make him a great public servant.

The best leaders in American history, indeed world history, have been elitists. Jefferson extolled the noble yeomen but he kept slaves to work his plantation. Lincoln believed in freeing the slaves—at the time in direct conflict with the good old boys. Churchill was a blueblood to his marrow. FDR did not fill his cabinet with stainless steel but with fine silver—the great economists from Ivy League schools (and Iowa’s own Grinnell College) who invented the New Deal. JFK surely did not know how to spot-weld. Woodrow Wilson came from Princeton. Ulysses S. Grant was a man of the people and an awful president. Same with Ronald Reagan. George Bush the patrician was a far better president than his son, who spent his formative years in the oil fields near Midlands, Texas.

Of course Obama is an elitist. Graduate of Harvard Law School, editor of the Harvard Law Review, constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago, married to a Princeton grad. Would we prefer that Snoop Dog occupy the Oval Office?

We need a president who understands how to lift western Iowa and western Pennsylvania from their long descents. We need someone who can get us out of a disastrous military confrontation with the Muslim world—not step it up, as McCain would. Obama will wear his flag lapel, do nothing to restrict that young man’s ability to buy a bazooka, and proclaim that he has been saved by Jesus. He will talk about a nation of laws and immigrants and so forth. But on the stuff that really counts in government—waging war and steering domestic economic affairs—an elitist is better equipped than a grave digger if he is honest about it.

Art Cullen is editor of The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times, where this appeared.

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2008

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