Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Elitism and Populism

There seem to be two primary flavors of political rhetoric in the U.S. right now: elitism and populism.

Elitism is the language of the upper class, of those who claim to be our betters: I know more than you because I went to the right schools, and therefore I can and will pass laws to make sure you behave the proper way because you are not smart enough to govern yourself. I'm not a big fan of elitism because I don't like being talked down to--even by people I agree with. Tone matters.

Populism is the language of the disenfranchised or some insider pretending to be disenfranchised from a position of power. The language of the populist is the language of the rabble rouser: Who are these people in charge who think they're better than us?! I'd rather trust some random stranger than a snob who went to a fancy school! These people in charge have no connection to "normal people." And so forth. Rather than seek to elevate the common man or woman to seek higher aspirations in education or ambition, the populist would just as soon see any elite person or institution brought down and "taken down a notch." The populist is often comfortable bringing the dialogue down to the lowest common denominator. In an effort to reach out to "the people," they are willing to appeal to easily accessible fears and hates that get the masses aroused and the blood boiling.

There are other types of leadership and rhetoric, voices of reason, sanity, and balance, but those sorts of things are not much in demand anymore. A pity.

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