What are liberals out of touch with? Are all forms of elitism bad?
As a Canadian observer of North American politics, there have been four big domestic stories this fall: the US sequestration, coming into force of Obamacare, the Rob Ford scandal, and Stephen Harper’s senate scandal.
In each of these, I argued the expected elitist position: running a deficit to promote growth in a stagnant economy is necessary; partially socialized medical care is wise and allowing legislation to be implemented is democratic; and Rob Ford is an imbecile. I did not actually say much on the senate scandal because I think it is a minor transgression that inevitably results from political nepotism, but both liberals and conservatives are equally guilty of this and wither could have found themselves in the middle of that one.
In each of these cases, I have been accused of being a liberal elitist and being out of touch. So lets break it down.
Is being elite a bad thing? In some ways, yes. If you look down upon those with lesser intelligence, lesser prospects or even a lesser life situation than you are lucky enough to have. Yes, you are an ass. But this is completely different from wanting your elected officials to be more intelligent, more refined, more diplomatic than the average person. I want the mayor of our largest city and the leaders of our country to be brilliant. Running a country or a city is a complex undertaking. You need an exceptional ability to absorb and cross reference information,you need to learn the underpinnings of law, accounting, management, diplomacy and raft of other skills. You need to be an effective public and private communicator. And you need to do so in a way that brings others along with you. This is tough stuff. It is not elitist (or it is justified elitism) to want the leaders of our countries and our cities to have a level of intelligence and sophistication that very few of us possess. Obama has it, Clinton had it, I would say Romney had it; Stephen Harper might. But Rob Ford, George Bush Jr, Sarah Palin.. not even close; they are not qualified for these positions.
Now… Liberalism. This is tougher. I am a liberal, but I know many conservatives who are good and wise people. To me there are two characteristics, that in current politics, are relevant to delineating a liberals from a conservative.
The first difference between liberals and conservatives is their view on the role of government. Conservatives want less, liberals are comfortable with more. There are good arguments on both sides, and having governments rotated occasionally from liberal to conservative and back again keeps the tendencies of government to get either too big or too small in check.
The second difference in the current difference between liberals and conservatives lies in the interests they represent. These days, liberals are far more apt to speak for an act in the interest of a broader base. Conservatives on the other hand, pander to their narrow based on say to hell with everyone else. It is politics of inclusion versus politics of division. The people who benefit most from many of the liberals policies will not vote (or often if they do, do not vote liberal), yet liberals promote policy in their interest – e.g. the poor, rural people. Conservatives play to their base of support by giving them the policy they want and by actively opposing policy their base dislikes (take the climate change debate as a prime example).
These are complex political times and it takes a certain humility to admit that we need to be governed by people that are smarter than us and hold a broader perspective and interest than just our own. It is time we all grow up a little an accept this.
Does that sound elitist and out of touch? Good.