I love a good Cultural Elitism Contest as much as the next guy, but after poking fun of white people in green golf pants calling other people elite, I’d like to get serious and talk about Elitism with Real World Consequences, for example, Health Care Elitism. As in, do you even know anyone on Medicaid? Charles Murray: I’m looking at you.
Murray recently had a column in the Washington Post asserting that there is a New Elite taking over America. The Tea Party is warning us about this, and they’re right. Seriously — all of what I just wrote is in his article; I’m not satirizing it. Now put aside the general hilarity of a billionaire-funded astroturf movement warning us about any other elites than the one that took over their movement. And the specific hilarity of the man who believes that white people are a genetic elite warning us about other elites. The whole thing is just wrong. As in incorrect. It’s a bunch of lazy-ass cultural stereotypes repackaged as opinion commentary.
For example, Murray seems to think it’s elitist to identify Jimmie Johnson as an NFL coach rather than a NASCAR racer. Because the NFL is only watched in the salons of the Upper West Side. Or that it’s more elitist to go mountain biking than RVing, when the latter costs several hundred times more than the former.
Murray used these and other cultural stereotypes to announce that “[t]he members of the New Elite may love America, but, increasingly, they are not of it.”
As one commenter noted:
Time and again, this essay describes as “mainstream” or “quintessentially American” things that the vast majority of Americans don’t do: living in a small town (80% of Americans don’t), reading Harlequin romances (85% don’t), watching The Price Is Right or Oprah (more than 90% don’t), belonging to Rotary or Kiwanis (99+% belong to neither.) It isn’t just “elites” who don’t do these things; the average person doesn’t do them. (Nor follow NASCAR.) They’re not even majority behaviors among the groups where they’re more prevalent: the rural-and-small-town, the poorly educated, the old. So Murray’s quarrel is actually with the REAL mainstream America, is it not?
In fact, the elites who are trying to take over the country — including the ones who just poured hundreds of millions into the last election — are the ones with no real experience relevant to many of their fellow Americans. The don’t know about, don’t care about, and largely disdain the experience of being African-American or gay, of risking everything to come to this country to find work and raise a family (can there BE a more quintessential American experience?), or of struggling with employment, health care, and other family crises that require a government safety net.
Herewith a set of questions to match Murray’s. Test to see if you are a Health Care Elitist.
- Do you know what DME is?
- Have you ever had to choose between paying a doctor or paying for some other household essential?
- Have you ever made a career choice based on the availability of health insurance?
- Are you on Medicaid?
- Do you know anyone on Medicaid?
- Have you ever had to forgo paid employment to ensure that you don’t lose the benefits you need to function in the world?
- Have you ever had to forgo marriage and shack up with your sweetie because your combined incomes would kick you both off benefits?
- Have you ever had to hold a fundraiser to cover a loved one’s health care costs?
- Have you ever gone to the emergency room with an illness that could have been addressed by a family doctor because you don’t have a family doctor because you can’t afford a family doctor?
- Have you ever had to fight with an insurance company to get medical treatment you need?
- Have you ever read the very common headlines about state budget cuts knowing that would directly affect your ability to get out of bed in the morning? Perhaps to survive?
I would argue that if you don’t have any of these experiences or know anyone who does, you are too distant from the experience of Real America to be permitted to opine on health care policy.
Finally, just for laughs, my Murray Elitism Quotient revealed. I’ll let you decide if I’m fit to try to take over America:
Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right?” Yes but only because I read People magazine every time I have to fly somewhere.
Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? No. I’d prefer to kill brain cells with alcohol.
Can you hold forth animatedly about mountain biking or skiing? Mountain biking sounds dangerous and exhausting. Love to ski — gravity does most of the work. I generally prefer my sports spectator.
Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you? Yeah – it’s that show where buff men in shiny underpants grapple with each other. Tim claims it’s a sport.
Have you ever read a “Left Behind” novel or Harlequin romance? No – but only because my browsing is limited to the “Not Crap” section of the bookstore.
Would you be caught dead in an RV? Tim and I talk all the time about seeing the country in an RV… if they made one that was accessible.
Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship? No, but not because I’m elitist, because I hate being around other people.
A colleague of mine gave birth to a beautiful girl with severe epilepsy. It turned out that she needed to have one entire hemispere of her brain removed or she would die from her seizures. My colleague and her husband were both musicians at the time, and the health plan our union provides maxed out at 50k per year. Some fellow musicians opened up a fund where we could all make whatever measly contributions we could afford (this was going to cost at least 100k after all was said and done). Some other colleagues who played in a B’way show (Beauty and the Beast; this is the only good thing ever to come out of that show) kept my colleague busy with subbing work for several YEARS just to make sure she had money coming in.
It’s funny, since we’re classical musicians, which I think makes us dangerous cultural elites (as well as abhorrent parasites on the Real America). Perhaps it makes us prosecutable commies as well.
I’m terribly puzzled by all this labeling of elitism. Frankly, I hope the country will always be run by intellectual elites: people who know more about economics and foreign relations than I do (wouldn’t be hard). We tried having a moron as a president just to prove that normal folks are better, and look where we are now.
My kids have a second cousin with a bone growth issue that causes the most common type of dwarfism. We got word of his birth a week before my youngest was due, and word of the diagnosis a day later. His parents are musicians in Canada, and the second thing I said when we heard was “Thank God they emigrated.”
One of my kids takes daily medication, and I knew what happened to other families, but two years ago, she had to tell me four times before I took it in a key fact. She’s got a “pre-existing condition, and she’d need to marry or work for a large company to be insured for the rest of her life. Hearing Rachel Maddow point out that the lame health care bill at least let young adults stay on their parents insurance until 26 actually made me burst into tears.
I’m in the thoroughly privileged elite, but living there doesn’t enable me to take care of either of those now-young-adults.
Either we tackle major health challenges together, for each other, or we can’t tackle them at all.
I really enjoy reading your posts Amy! Elitism is an interesting concept–as the above poster said–is it elitism to want someone in power who is more knowledgeable than the rest of us in foreign relations and economics? And yet also has come up through the ranks and understands what it is to struggle for some of the basic things in life–decent health care, housing, education, etc.? Very thought provoking. Ask me sometime about my state’s newest Republican senator in relation to this–I’ll give you paragraphs!
Oh, and in response to some of your questions–no clue as to who took over for Bob Barker; don’t watch daytime TV; like to bike, but not mountain biking; MMA?; Harlequin yes, but very few and don’t tell!; RV–only a small one!; cruise ship– only the really cool small ones that take you around New England or the Mediterranean, or the one I took up the Nile….
Thought provoking as usual, Amy! So, just for mental exercise, what is the opposite of “elite?” “Ignorant and proud of it?”
So I went to look at the article. Is Murray actually complaining about NOT ENOUGH affirmative action in top tier colleges? And he’s complaining that the “elite” are the two-thirds of Americans who don’t live in small towns? What? When did 33% turn into the norm? And wait–why do people go to college at all if they are supposed to take “entry level” jobs once they graduate?
Don’t even get me started on the puffery that is the NYT wedding announcement page. That doesn’t even qualify as valid data, much less evidence of some new trend of elites marrying each other (as if they didn’t in the past?)
Oh, he’s THAT Charles Murray, still flogging the flawed “Bell Curve.” Light on data, heavy on the emotionally laden innuendo–check! So, are we to assume that the Tea Party is made up solely of people who watch Oprah and read Harlequin romances and own RVs and live in small towns and neither parent has a college degree–but excluding any minorities, immigrants, non-Christian/non-evangelicals. Wonder how many people that is, and if that small group really can add up a statistically valid “real America.” I’m not convinced, but I worry about the shoddy choices the WP is making about what to publish.