Elitist? Look in the mirror

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

A century and a half after the start of the Civil War, the war continues — or else we're in the midst of another. This one is a slightly more "civil" Civil War. So far, we're not actually firing shots at one another (although one side is trying to arm everybody, which can't be a good sign).

Our battlefield is the Internet. Online, there's plenty of head-butting and name-calling, but very little dialogue. Dialogue requires listening to what the other person has to say, thinking about it before responding, respecting the other person, bringing to the discussion a desire to learn, and humbly acknowledging that you don't have all the answers.

So let me first acknowledge that I don't have all the answers. And I would like to learn more about my political polar opposites.

In this "civil" war, conservatives are pitted against progressives, with moderates cringing in the middle, doing their best imitation of "See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil." Notify them when someone wins.

Only no one ever wins. Democracy has become a state of perpetual culture war. If you aren't prepared to do battle, you won't reap the benefits.

Conservatives have never been shy about verbal combat, and the epithet they hurl most often at their opponents is "elitist." Anyone who disagrees with them and has the nerve to say so, is an "elitist," usually living in an "ivory tower." Often they hurl this insult while criticizing "liberals" for name-calling. Condemning an entire group for name-calling as you call them names seems, at best, inconsistent.

Recently, New York Times columnist and former editor Bill Keller received 98 emails following a column he wrote that was critical of Sarah Palin. Here's a sample:

"You are an elitist twit, pouring out bile because you cannot stand Sarah Palin."

"I am beyond repulsed at people like you and your ELITIST, pseudo-intellectuals who feel you are justified at spitting in the face of Mrs. Palin."

The right, which claims it is their sacred duty to balance the federal budget, spits in the face of former President Bill Clinton, who not only balanced the budget but ended his term with a surplus. Yet I never heard those fiscal conservatives utter a word of protest as George W. Bush wiped out the budget surplus and added $4 trillion to the deficit. Even their patron saint, Ronald Reagan, tripled the deficit during his tenure.

Seems inconsistent.

Perhaps conservatives need to define their terms. They want to cut the deficit (most of it piled up while Republicans were in charge) by cutting programs for the poor and middle class while continuing to extend tax breaks to the rich and large corporations. When I think of "elitists," I think of the rich and large corporations.

Seems inconsistent.

Clinton balanced the budget with a combination of budget cuts and revenue increases. You would think Republicans could learn something from that success. Instead, they insist on spending cuts alone (except on the military). No revenue increases (the dreaded T-word). Democrats, meanwhile, say you need a balanced approach to balance the budget.

Which of those positions strikes you as "extreme"?

Conservatives say they want to balance the budget more than anything in the world, but they won't take the steps necessary to do so.

Seems inconsistent.

The progressives I know don't strike me as elitist or extremist. Elitists think they're better than everyone else. They're absolutely certain they know better. They're concerned primarily about the privileged few, not the common good.

Conservatives want to repeal attempts to make quality, affordable health care available to most Americans. I've never heard a Republican say, "We need health care for all." Now they want to revamp Medicare so the elderly will no longer have full access to health care when they need it most.

Seems elitist.

Conservatives have been labeling progressives elitist for decades. When I read online comment boards, it only confirms what I've thought for some time. If a conservative accuses you of something, he's really talking about himself. Whenever a conservative calls me a name, I'm tempted to use that old retort from the playground: "I know you are, but what am I?"

If you don't like people calling you names, then stop calling them names. If they continue calling you names, keep in mind what my father always told us growing up: "Doing something wrong because somebody else does it to you, doesn't make it right."

That would be the first step on the long road to dialogue.

I'm a progressive (or a liberal, by my definition). I want what's good for the few to be good for the many. I want all Americans, including the wealthy, to share the sacrifices necessary to balance the budget. Does that make me an elitist?

Do you want to do battle or do dialogue?

Either way, we'll need to get our terms straight.

Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

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Posted: July 15th, 2011 8:36 PM

I was quite young, but I remember when Reagan won his second term in office. I was all of FOUR, and it was my first real introduction to politics. I was happy but my parents were both pissed "No this is a bad thing!" "But he's our president!" "Yes, but we don't like him." "I thought we were supposed to like our president!" I don't remember what all they said, but I got the message loud and clear lol. I think that's where a lot of our positions come from, along with the emotional attachment.


Posted: July 15th, 2011 8:06 PM

Politics, like religion, are based more of feelings than fact for most people. That's why the facts are hard to argue for most while also staying on topic. We can't consider that we may be wrong. As a child, my father was involved in Chicago politics. In our household republicans were the devil lol. If my father knew just how far my political views have deviated, he would be heart-broken and outraged. Our positions are often far more emotional than logical.

epic lulz  

Posted: July 15th, 2011 7:30 PM

In my experience, rightwingers usually shout out "elitist" when they're unable to comprehend your argument. It's not so much projection as it is insecurity which prompts them to fall back on hoary name calling.

Ken Trainer Should Be Fired  

Posted: July 15th, 2011 7:04 PM

The only consistency here is that this garbage that is being passed off as some type of editorial is good for one thing....lining the bottom of the bird cage. Ken Trainor, go to work for MoveOn.Org and stop trying to pass your communist drivel on to the rest of us.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 12:39 PM

Trainor "Do you want to do battle or do dialogue?" Since when is battle and dialog mutually exclusive? Frankly, I thought the combination was the foundation of the press. I think the moans coming from the WJ about its blog is a sign of fear that they are losing control over the public news message. WJ Comments is providing facts, opinions, and a meaningful and unbiased discussion of village's issues. That's disturbing to some of the movers and shakers. No surprise ther

Tom from River Forest  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 11:57 AM

As usual Ray Simpson is wrong. If he had actually read "Reckless Endangerment" instead of reading some right wing blog that interprets the book to fit its own narrative, he would know that the authors principal culprit is James Johnson, formerly Chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae. Of course, something that Ray doesn't mention is that the authors also point out that the lax regulations during the Bush years were the real facilitators of his misdeeds.

Bill David from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 11:25 AM

I read in Time Magazine that the top 5% of the income earners in the US make 27% of all the income. I am sure that they can afford to give a bit more to taxes, and to social security, by paying on 100% of their income. How can they possibly miss it? Maybe they will have to go without another private jet, or one less bottle of the top of the line tequila or single malt scotch? My wife and I have worked for 38 years and together we never made more than $190,000, and we both have MBA's.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 10:45 AM

Social programs must be taken away from Washington. They are all incapable of managing anything. Private charities are infinitely better at helping the needy. Donate $100 to Salvation Army and $90 gets to the clients. Send the same $100 to Washington and perhaps $5 gets to the job. Conservatives are generous, but, also demand responsibility with their generosity.

Dan from RF  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 10:39 AM

This civil war is about money. The status quo costs about 1.4 trillion dollars more than the government collects each year. At some point the debt will be unserviceable. I looked at my tax return from last year and subtracted my federal, state and property taxes from my income. I reduced what was left by 9 percent for sales taxes. The remainder for my family was less than 55 percent of my income. That seems painful already, even before we take steps to solve the budget problem.

Edior from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 10:02 AM

I do not agree with the republican philosophy of I got mine, you go get yours. I like the democratic philosophy of helping the whole, and not the elite. I'm hoping after Obama finishes his second term that we can get a democrat in office. The reason why I believe Obama will get a second term is, liberals turn away from the truth. Republicans don't need to put their guy in office because Obama is doing fine for them. Ken, I would sit down with you, but you would need to prove what you believe.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 9:54 AM

I'm not in favor of anyone in government taking away social programs, but that is what Reagan did. That was the same time the name bum was changed to homeless. Clinton did have a surplus when he left office and Bush convinced democrats to go along with his war because in politics, you need to give and take, so democrats gave, so they could take.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 9:49 AM

If Obama's real interest is to take care of American's, then why did he come out and say there may not be any social security checks going out in August? That is so unbelievable that a President of the United States would say that, regardless of the reasoning behind that. People are not going to think why he said it. They just know what he said.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 9:44 AM

It's good to be in favor of the what is best for the majority, but it doesn't seem apparent. There is some type of medical care that Obama made that no one understands, and the only thing I have gathered is everyone will be required to have medical insurance. If that's true, that's terrific for the insurance companies who are major big business. If that's so, then Obama is in favor of big business, unless someone else can explain what the health care Obama made is.


Posted: July 14th, 2011 8:11 AM

Ken have you looked in the mirror lately? Talk about labeling.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 9:00 AM

Before declaring yourself "Holier than thou" please read "Who Really Cares" by Arthur C Brooks and "Reckless Endangerment" by Morgenson and Rosner. These well documented works prove the dishonesty of your argument. Reckless Endangerment lays the root cause of our economic turmoil right at the feet of your beloved Slick Willie Clinton. Interesting how you can insult a large number of citizens and get your nose out of joint when they prove you wrong - CONSISTENTLY!

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