The “elitist” charge thrown at Democrats by Republicans is basically phony. For all his pretensions, George W. Bush was born a millionaire and never has had to work a day in his life. Republican policies are most helpful to those in the top 1% of the income scale, and are increasingly less helpful the further down the scale you go. Probably they do harm to most people in the bottom half, and possibly even to the bottom two-thirds. So in reality, the elitism smear is just part of a well-financed Republican effort to deceive people.
So why is the charge so effective? I think that it’s because, by now, the Democratic Party does indeed represent large groups whose status depends on credentials and connections, and that many plebian voters basically don’t like these people. The college professor is a case in point. I would guess that most people who come out of college admiring their professors (especially liberal arts professors) end up as Democrats, whereas most of the students who come out of college hating those professors (especially students specializing in practical fields) end up as Republicans. (And non-college people are probably more likely to hate professors than to love them.)
Liberal-arts-type people do well in academia, education, arts and entertainment, non-profits, public service, and administration. They don’t usually gravitate toward business or technical fields, and they seldom end up as labor in the traditional sense of the word. (Not being labor is the main purpose of education, right?)
Now, it’s in these liberal-arts type fields that various sorts of P.C., coolness, and hipness are most influential. For jobs in these areas, it tends to be necessary to have the right manners, to say the right things, and just generally to seem like the right kind of person. I’m convinced that this is the new gentility and that the liberal arts education and its mannerisms have become the new index of class. People who are hip and cool (even if quite poor) are genteel, whereas people who are unhip and uncool (even if they’re prosperous) are low-class and are excluded. And P.C. diversity is a sort of fig leaf hiding what’s going on. It’s a cliché, but it’s still true: diversity just doesn’t extend, for example, to white guys who drink pop wine and shoot rabbits for fun.
In actual fact, uncool low-income people are hurt more by the acts of Republican management than they are by anything that the liberal academic and administrative elite ever does. But the lefestyle snobbery they percieve is real, and as a result the Democrats have effectively allowed the Republicans to pick up a lot of their votes — essentially for nothing.
After all, the Democrats’ main concern with regard to organized labor (which is actually a relatively privileged part of the bottom half of the income scale) is that it is terribly. terribly important not to pander to them. Basically, the neoliberals running the party have chosen not to represent a considerable chunk of the electorate, and nobody should be surprised if the Republicans take advantage of this and pick up some cheap votes.
(This is a think-piece and not keyed to any recent event, or even to the fall election. It’s Part One of two, and the second part, about competition, is better.)