Sunday, September 07, 2008

Insult to injury

All of my babbling about how urbanites in general and Jews in particular are responding to the Republican convention in general and Palin in particular has, I now realize, missed the point. And the point is simple enough: when you're insulted, you respond by losing whatever kind feelings you may have once had towards the person or entity that has insulted you. And a whole lot of (or, I should say if I want to be heard, lotta) people were just insulted. Urbanites, Jews, anyone living on either coast, anyone whose career or proclivities mark them as an intellectual, anyone who'd take a salad over a fried squirrel, anyone who thinks 17 is too young to get married and have a kid, everyone who works at a newspaper or is otherwise involved with 'the media'--that is, an 'elite' that encompasses a huge but unmeasurable segment of the American population--all feel attacked by many of the speeches at the RNC. (See here--via--for a different but overlapping list.)

While the Republican speakers suggest that the groups they malign are so hoity-toity as to be immune to the insults of good ol' Americans like themselves, this is not the case. We, the insulted, heard you loud and clear. In a weird way, this massively broad definition of 'elitist,' intended to make those coastal snobs feel guilty for ignoring the Heartland, may end up flattering the many Americans on the margins of anything anyone would rightly call 'elite;' once flattered, will these Americans go for Obama or McCain? Whether the Republicans managed to insult their way to loss or to victory remains to be seen.

For me personally, what this means is I now find myself, if only for this election, just as 'left' as the rest of academia. How can I continue to advocate a rapprochement between the right-wing intelligentsia and the left-leaning academy, when we're supposed to offer some kind of 'character' award to every American untarnished by book-smarts? How will academia become a more friendly place for conservatives if we define 'conservative' as only respecting those who work with their hands (and nose, apparently)?

In college, it would drive me nuts when classmates or profs assumed I hated Bush, was against the war in Iraq, and otherwise situated myself fully on the left. It's possible to be educated and conservative! Or, it was. When, during the upcoming semester, teachers across the country make, as they surely will, snide remarks about the G.O.P., who can blame them? They've been insulted for being who they are.


Anonymous said...

Being an intellectual is unpopular and will not win votes. Otherwise Obama would use in his advertisements the fact that he was editor of the Harvard law review and McCain was in the very bottom of his class at Annapolis. Even conservative intellectuals such as the late Wm. Buckley were anti intellectual. Didn't he say that he would rather be governed by the first thousand names in the Boston phone directory rather than the Harvard faculty?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"Being an intellectual is unpopular and will not win votes."

Fair enough. But in this election, "intellectual" has been defined so broadly as to include anyone who is not what would be called in impolite circles 'white trash.' It's not about being a Harvard law prof, but about thinking Levi's "Bristol" tattoo was maybe not the best idea. Taking anti-intellectualism to that level could potentially lose votes.

Miss Self-Important said...

I fit into a lot of these categories, but I don't feel insulted. Maybe it's because my allegiance to the squirrel camp in the squirrel vs. salad rivalry overrules all my other loyalties.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

It's possible to imagine a speech critical of blacks not offending some blacks, a speech critical of men not offending some men, and so on. But it seems clear to me that the natural, knee-jerk response to the speeches on the part of those who fall into the categories mentioned was, well, feeling insulted. A 'coastal elite' can choose to see where the angry speakers are coming from, but the normal, to-be-expected response is to say, well, if that's how you feel, we don't like all of you either.

What we need, politically, is a recipe for squirrel atop an arugula salad. It could be all local foods, thereby pleasing everybody.

Daniel said...

I'm curious, what specific comments made have been specifically anti-Jewish? And which ones were any more anti-urbanite than in previous elections? Sure, Gov. Palin touted her small-town roots, but no more than Sen. Biden did. Which GOP speaker suggested "that the groups they malign are so hoity-toity as to be immune to the insults of good ol' Americans like themselves"?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

The glorification of small-town life is de facto anti-minority. But the history of anti-cosmopolitanism is so tied up with the history of anti-Semitism, and the history (and current situation) of Jews so tied up with urbanity, that while I mostly felt insulted as a grad-school-going New Yorker, I also felt insulted as a Jew. That's not to denounce any particular speaker as an anti-Semite, but to say that there was stuff in the speeches Jews could, as Jews, find off-putting. As for Biden, I never said that this was just the Republicans. As for "hoity-toity," my point here is that the speakers each one after the next implied that they were denouncing only elites, that is, that the RNC spoke for the underdog. That's what allowed them to be so vicious rhetorically. If they presented city and country as simply two aspects of America, rather than as overlord and wholesome-but-oppressed, respectively, if they thought of city folk as anything but oppressors, then they would not have been so strong in their anti-city rhetoric.

Daniel said...

So, nothing specific then...

"The glorification of small-town life is de facto anti-minority."
That seems extremely limiting to me. I mean, if I prefer Cooperstown, NY, to Boston, MA, then I'm anti-minority? If I, like Thoreau, think that there is a glory in going to the small towns to "live life deliberately" then I'm anti-minority?

And what about Jewish life that exists outside of urban centers? What about southern Jewish life? Is this invalidated? Are these Jews to be insulted, as Jews, by someone saying they don't like cities? I could see it being said that they should be insulted as Americans (NYC being a great American city), but as Jews? Does this formulation apply in general or just to political speeches?

Just seems very limiting to me.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"So, nothing specific then..."

Care to write my lesson plans? In seriousness, I hope to have more detailed posts later, with more quotes from speeches and so forth, but can't at the moment.

Of course Jews live outside cities. Most are not living in the small-town South. American Jewish culture is tied to city life, both in a positive way and in the sense that many who are anti-city are also anti-Jewish. To deny this would be pointless. Those few Jews living in, say, rural Appalachia might have been among the few not offended by the anti-city rhetoric, but they also may identify with their urban counterparts and realize that anti-cosmopolitanism is about more than just hatred of those whose addresses are within city bounds.

Daniel said...

I will, then, eagerly await more detailed posts :)

I agree that anti-cosmopolitanism is about more than hatred of cities. It's about populism, pandering, and political gamesmanship (if I know that the cities are going to vote as a block, then they are an easy target that can be aimed at with little political risk). I just don't see the direct anti-city = anti-Semite equation.

But, as I said, I am looking forward to the future discussion. I'm probably missing some critical piece here.

Anonymous said...

"We, the insulted, heard you loud and clear."

Interestingly, this is part of the game.

By insulting the elites, the GOP hopes to get the elites to return fire. This works to further polarize the discourse on terms that helps the GOP get to a majority.

When Palin was selected, my first thought was that the left should simply ignore her. My second thought was that the essence of Palin would make it utterly impossible for the left to ignore her - she's just too bright and shiny in culture war terms. Attention must be paid.

By adding insult to injury, the GOP simply seeks to draw even more return fire. They like fighting on this particular patch of ground.

Miss Self-Important said...

What is the status of the suburban Jew in this typology? Does it matter if none of the named speakers have ever known or considered the historical Jews-cities connection? Also, even if you want to impute unconscious racism here, isn't "anti-minority" an overly broad characterization? Every minority except maybe Jews, Catholics, and Asians has rural roots in America (though some of these can trace rural roots in their countries of origin too). The urbanizing trajectory of most minorities has not been that different from that of whites, and the cultural memory of rural origins that Withywindle refers to could reasonably be as strong for them as for whites.