Elitists for President

By Begala, Paul | Newsweek, April 30, 2012 | Go to article overview

Elitists for President


Begala, Paul, Newsweek


Byline: Paul Begala

Which candidate will stoop to connect with the middle class?

And so the presidency of the United States has come down to a choice between Thurston Howell III and the Professor. It's interesting--and surprising--that in this populist time both parties have nominated leaders from their elite wings.

And I mean elite. In Mitt Romney the Republicans have the apotheosis of wealth worship. Romney has amassed a fortune so vast he is expanding his $12 million beachfront mansion and installing an elevator ... for his cars. For his cars, people. If you're insanely rich, you might have an elevator in your mansion. But a lift for your Lexus? Keep in mind he's running for office, for Pete's sake. What's he going to do if he wins? Use orphans as human golf tees?

Barack Obama is an elite as well. He's a millionaire author (although Romney could buy and sell him a hundred times--well, probably just buy him once and lay everyone off). But more important, he is the kind of elite that Democrats love: an academic elite. A professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, president of the Harvard Law Review, graduate of Columbia University: the egghead trifecta.

Yes, we Americans admire financial success; we don't hate the rich. But we resent folks who got rich by rigging the system. Romney made millions in part by loading companies with debt, driving them into bankruptcy, and laying off their workers. The workers who lost their jobs had their health benefits canceled as well--but Romney and his partners made millions. That's not how Steve Jobs got rich.

By the same token, we admire academic success. Judging by all the bumper stickers that say, "My child is an honor student at John Foster Dulles Junior High School," we are raising a generation of geniuses. Who wouldn't want their kid to go to an Ivy League school? But we resent smartypants, pointy-headed intellectuals who look down their noses at us and lack common sense. (As my old friend Zell Miller used to say, "They don't know gee from haw.")

Each party has a vibrant and energetic populist movement. The Tea Party on the right and the Occupy Wall Street movement on the left have done the near--impossible: they have moved millions of Americans to get off the couch and vote on something other than American Idol.

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