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ELITE: “Both the left and the right have twisted it into a code word meaning ‘not one of us’” (Susan

August 27, 2008

*elite*; adj: the best; noun: the best of a group.

“[W]hat was once an accolade has turned poisonous in American public life . . . as both the left and the right have twisted it into a code word meaning ‘not one of us’” (Susan Jacoby). In earlier times, the concept that having intellectual expertise is undemocratic, and therefore bad, was used to smear those on the left, as the slur “eggheads” was hurled by anti-Communist crusaders in the 1950s; or as George Wallace, in his 1964 campaign for the Democratic nomination, positioned himself as a populist by decrying “pointy-headed intellectuals.” As Jacoby pointed out, Hillary Clinton used the phrase “elite opinion” to dismiss “the near unanimous opposition of economists to her proposal for a gas tax holiday . . .” Unfortunately, anti-intellectualism in the U.S. has become so widespread that discussions and debate about serious issues have been replaced by soundbites, news programs are now largely infotainment, and facts are considered fairly underwhelming. Politicians may use disparaging tones to describe rival ideas as out of touch, ivory tower, unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky.

For more hot button words, visit the WMC Unspinning the Spin page which provides a preview of our guide to be released in 2009.

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