I thought that the column by Nicholas Kristof cited by birdie was generally perceptive: he understands that contemporary liberalism has (for good reason) come to be seen as an elitist upper-middle class movement. However, early in the column, he shows that he still fails to grasp a fundamental part of the problem:
I'm writing this on tenterhooks on Tuesday, without knowing the election results. But whether John Kerry's supporters are now celebrating or seeking asylum abroad, they should be feeling wretched about the millions of farmers, factory workers and waitresses who ended up voting - utterly against their own interests - for Republican candidates.
Kristof's assertion that the blue-collar workers are voting utterly against their own interests makes sense only if you grant two assumptions:
- these people don't know where their real interests lie, and
- Kristof does.
Nothing better expresses the elitism at the very heart of contemporary liberalism than this kind of "I know better than you how you ought to perceive your interests" attitude. So deeply entrenched is this mindset that I am convinced that Kristof was unaware that he was manifesting the very problem he sought to point out. It would never occur to him that a person's or a group's interests could be construed in any way other than in economic terms--that a person might be persuaded of the real existence of a God, for instance, and that as a rational consequence of that persuasion she might pursue a course of action that did not maximize her economic well-being, but instead contributed to some other form of well-being she believes to have a higher claim.
Until Kristof can understand and accept that these persons are in a better position than he is to define and pursue their own interests, he still doesn't "get it". Close, but no cigar.