Back in October, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Charles Murray (co-author of "The Bell Curve") warning of the rise of a "new elite". Murray writes:
We know, for one thing, that the New Elite clusters in a comparatively small number of cities and in selected neighborhoods in those cities. This concentration isn't limited to the elite neighborhoods of Washington, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and San Francisco. It extends to university cities with ancillary high-tech jobs, such as Austin and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle.
With geographical clustering goes cultural clustering. Get into a conversation about television with members of the New Elite, and they can probably talk about a few trendy shows -- "Mad Men" now, "The Sopranos" a few years ago. But they haven't any idea who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right." They know who Oprah is, but they've never watched one of her shows from beginning to end.
Talk to them about sports, and you may get an animated discussion of yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but they are unlikely to know who Jimmie Johnson is (the really famous Jimmie Johnson, not the former Dallas Cowboys coach), and the acronym MMA means nothing to them.
They can talk about books endlessly, but they've never read a "Left Behind" novel (65 million copies sold) or a Harlequin romance (part of a genre with a core readership of 29 million Americans).
They take interesting vacations and can tell you all about a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada or an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor, but they wouldn't be caught dead in an RV or on a cruise ship (unless it was a small one going to the Galapagos). They have never heard of Branson, Mo.
There are so many quintessentially American things that few members of the New Elite have experienced. They probably haven't ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or lived for at least a year in a small town (college doesn't count) or in an urban neighborhood in which most of their neighbors did not have college degrees (gentrifying neighborhoods don't count). They are unlikely to have spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line (graduate school doesn't count) or to have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian. They are unlikely to have even visited a factory floor, let alone worked on one.
Taken individually, members of the New Elite are isolated from mainstream America as a result of lifestyle choices that are nobody's business but their own. But add them all up, and they mean that the New Elite lives in a world that doesn't intersect with mainstream America in many important ways. When the tea party says the New Elite doesn't get America, there is some truth in the accusation.
Murray even goes so far as to claim that "the members of the New Elite may love America, but, increasingly, they are not of it." His observations are not wrong, so far as I can tell, but his conclusions are preposterous. Of course they are of America. They are just as much of America as any other minority sub-culture, including the one-third of Americans who live in small towns and rural areas. Furthermore the social distance between the elite and the "mainstream" is smaller than it has ever been. Two things have changed, however: 1) we have been indoctrinated to believe that all class systems are illegitimate and should have disappeared by now (strangely, this expectation is shared by the ruling class itself), and 2) we have a heightened degree of class antagonism rather than mutual respect.
That we still have vestiges of an elite ruling class is something to celebrate, not denigrate. That today's elites have never read a "Left Behind" novel or a Harlequin romance, or watched an entire episode of Oprah, or attended the mud wrestling championships at an Indian casino is something to be commended, not ridiculed. As for the new elite being "out of touch" with ordinary Americans in other more wholesome respects, this is undeniably true as well - but it's just half the story, and it's the only half that seems to get told among my fellow conservatives.
Granted that today's elite promotes, or at least shrugs and excuses, the most degraded behaviors of the lower classes while using its own privileges to mitigate the damage within the tribe. The immoralities and degradations of mainstream American life are used as a shield, a means by which the elites can enjoy a certain lifestyle while pretending to display their egalitarian solidarity with the masses. With money, talent, ability and influence, they can live like animals in their youth and make a nice comfortable recovery for themselves later in life. Non-elites - lacking the material, intellectual and social resources to conceal or repair the damage of godless living - are condemned to their sad pathologies.
Our national crisis is very much a crisis of the elites. As the elites go, so goes the nation. The problem is not that our elites are "out of touch" in general: the problem is that they are in touch with too many of the wrong things and out of touch with too many of the right things. Traditionalist conservatives ought to avoid the kind of populist rhetoric that suggests we would be better off without elites, or that elites should not be culturally different from the mainstream, or that elites are somehow "not of America" because they are, well, elites. It's the conversion of the elites we ought to hope for, not their demise.