Political snobbery

Political snobbery
: I’ve been searching and searching for the reason that the left has lost so much of its humanistic compassion, that it came to care more about “my name” (and not doing anything in my name) than about the freedom of the Iraqi people. And I fear I’ve found the reason:

The left has become a movement of snobs (taking that title away from the right).

This occurred to me today as I listened to one of my favorite radio shows, Kurt Andersen’s Studio 360. I respect Andersen and usually agree with him but today, I say he overdid it when he said:

And what has been the first huge, terrible misstep of this American war intended to begin the restoration of civilized values in Iraq?

Our failure to protect the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. We all know what happened: looters stole thousands of precious and irreplaceable statuary and vases and cups and architectural fragments from the ancient Mesopotamian and Sumerian and Assyrian cultures.

That is, we failed to safeguard some of the most precious artifacts of civilization itself.

It would be hard to dream up an irony more tragic than this.

Oh, I could dream up a crueler irony quite easily: Imagine if more of our soldiers had died because they were spread thin covering the museum. Imagine if looters had been killed by coalition forces protecting the vaults. Imagine the outcry that, too, would have brought.

In fairness, I’ll bet Andersen recorded his commentary before the NY Times admitted this week that the number of items known lost is 29, not 170,000 (and that some of the items lifted came from the gift shop).

Still this rallying cry over museum pieces, primarily from the left and antiwar Europe, reveals an attitude that, to me, clearly indicates the favoring of things — and ideas — over people. Given the choice of protecting our soldiers and others by not spreading them thin, I’ll take people. Given the choice of invading Iraq and freeing its people or not, I’ll take freedom. But not the left (and Old Europe).

The left got up-in-arms not about the lives and safety of our soldiers and not about the freedom of Iraqis but about a bunch of museum pieces. Things. I don’t care how damned precious they are, they’re still just things. Any single human life is more precious than the lot of them.

I would have expected just the opposite from my fellow liberals. I would have expected the utmost human compassion and defense.

But the sad fact is that liberals have become snobs.

When I grew up, conservatives were the snobs: They ran the companies. They were white. They were privileged. They were educated. They were members of the exclusive society. Country club culture.

But today, liberals are the snobbier lot. They control the academe. They scold or exclude people based on sins of offensiveness, saying the wrong thing, thinking the wrong thing: political incorrectness. When I was a TV critic, I had to suffer so many of my fellow travelers who insisted that they watched only public television, not the grungy popular TV the rest of America and I liked. PBS culture.

Their cultural snobbery extends even to Iraq’s museums.

The sad fact of it is that the left has lost — or abandoned — the masses.

The left used to defend the people against the elite but now they are the elite.

The left used to speak with the voice of the people but now the people have FoxNews and the New York Post.

When they weren’t looking, Rupert Murdoch came and stole the media masses away from the left. And if they’re not careful, if they don’t remember their roots and their raison d’etre, liberalism will lose its political legitimacy the same way.

Those roots should lead them — no, us, my fellow liberals — to fight for the rights of the Iraqi people and to put that above the value of museum pieces behind glass (not to mention rights to health insurance for Americans and quality education and … well, you get the idea).

I’ll be listening to tonight’s Democratic debate to see whether I hear the words of liberalism, whether I hear a voice of the people again.

  • Mike G

    I have a somewhat different take on this, because I do think under certain circumstances I would consider a piece of culture worth more than a human life.
    The situation here, though, is that you’ve got people who never cared about antiquites in Bagdad’s museums suddenly carrying on like they were worried about THAT all along. Why? Simply because it’s one of the few remaining clubs to beat Bush with (all the others having been swept away in the success of the war). You don’t even have to get as far as debating Sunday on the Grand Jatte vs. a busload of nuns, which do you save, because these people didn’t care about the people of Iraq, or the treasures of Iraq, until they had a parochial political reason to affect caring.

  • button

    I must confess that I flicked off the radio just before he came on. Now you made me glad I did. I turned on my windows media player and listened to martha’s vinyard radio station while I was surfing. (wmvy, I think it is). I also listen to wfuv sometimes.
    Your comments about the role reversal in snobs seems about right lately, although I don’t know how or why that happened. And I’m not even sure when it happened.

  • And in the doing of that sickening theft of the term “elite”, they’ve managed to pervert it into something quite disgusting, because their “taste” is based on political expediency, not true aesthetics. Bet a lot of them have never been in a museum for anything but photo-ops for publicity.

  • Tex Choctaw

    Howdy Jeff!
    You are right on target about liberal snobbishness and elitism, at least if you apply it to most high visibility liberal political leaders and many prominent anchor people and commentators in the mass media and high profile academics. By the way, Rush Limbaugh makes many of the same points and uses some of the same examples you do.
    Fortuneately, I know that you and most other “mainstream” liberals are not like these pompous snobs who get so much media coverage. Almost all of my liberal friends and acquaintances
    would agree with your comments about those who lost contact with liberalism’s roots. Fair minded and thoughtful liberals like yourself and my late wife’s parents are wonderful folks that I admire very much.
    Another by the way. As far back as my college days, I discovered my far left acquaintances thought I was a John Bircher, and my ultra-conservative friends were sure I was a socialist.
    I have done much soul searching and I have concluded that I am actually a moderately liberal conservative with libertarian leanings. ;-)
    May God bless us all, always- Tex

  • Fredrik

    Just for your information, there are conventions of war. Which, though one might wonder, even the US has agreed upon. These conventions deals with the issue of cultural values. And museums are definitely mentioned in these conventions, the oil ministerium the US chose to protect is not!

  • Pyecraft

    Somewhere, snuck deep inside your snobbish label-searching, a liberal elitism lies buried.
    You would risk the lives of any number of coalition troops, to “free” the 30 or so Iraqi citizens who actually want freedom?
    How elite is that? The reason you liberals are in such turmoil here, is that by definition, you can have no workable position whatsoever on how to deal with terrorism.
    The sooner you accept that, the less of Tex’s mental anguish you’ll endure trying to invent a new word for yourselves.

  • Peter

    Oddly what doesn’t get mentioned much is the simple fact that our spread-too-thin troops on the ground in Baghdad (thanks, Turkey) were not only still fighting pockets of resistance but had found numerous chaches of weaponry. Had the Fourth Infantry Division (mech) gotten into the fight it’s likely we would have had the spare troops to put a company or two at the Museum. As it turned out our commanders on the ground had the choice, guard some warehouses full of weapons and ammo or guard the Museum. I’m not the smartest guy in the universe but the choice is hands down for me…guard the things that can kill my guys. The people doing the complaining seem to live in a perfect world where no one ever has to pick the least damaging choice.

  • Jeff, I fear that the “29 items” figure will become as apocryphal as “170,000”. The latter is clearly an upper figure encompassing the museum’s known collections. The former, however, is not a definitive figure of loss. I’ve seen the TV images and that would barely cover the first floor. It’s clear the real number is higher than 29 and lower than 170,000.

  • Roseanna Smith

    Peter: Your comment about complainers seeming to “live in a perfect world where no one ever has to pick the least damaging choice” is right on the money. The loudest anti-war protesters I know (some–surprisingly few–students & faculty on the UO campus) have never had to manage a business, balance opposing political priorities of electorates, or even make tough budgeting decisions.
    About thing-based elitism: Back before 9/11, when the Taliban blew up the Buddhist monuments, I was upset, but nowhere near as mad as I was about their oppression of women (does anybody else remember those relentless e-mail petitions?). I worked at a Eugene social services agency, and asked my co-workers why they were angrier about the Buddhas than about the horrible conditions Afghan women suffered under, and the responses were enlightening. To a person, they all ran along the lines of, “The Buddhas are works of art that belong to all of humanity, but the oppression of women is a cultural issue, and every culture has the right to determine how to treat its own people.” So I suppose Germany had the right to treat “its own” Jews the way they did? There’s definitely been a switch in emphasis on the left, from “individual human rights” to “group/cultural sovereignty.” I deeply mourn that change, and like others here, I wonder when, why and how it happened. Can the left get its humanism back?

  • Well, let’s see. I hate lefties, and I more or less supported the war.
    Yet, I’m upset about the museum and the libraries. Most who seek to downplay the museum looting never mention the libraries, which burned a few days afterwards. But, anyway.
    The museum was #2 on the list of targets to protect.
    And, other places with valuable items were looted, not just the museum. When I say valuable items, I don’t mean office furniture. I’m talking about secret intelligence files and items at nuclear facilities. See the latest reports about Tuwaitha.
    Like antiquities and old books, are intelligence files and nuclear materials not worth the risks it would have taken to guard them?

  • There’s a link to the Tuwaitha article mentioned in my previous post here: http://www.hereticalideas.com/archives/000477.html

  • Richard Aubrey

    Some people save lives. Others provide us with security.
    Some battle disease by managing trash and sewage and providing us with unlimited clean water.
    Some build our homes and our power plants and our roads.
    Some have correct verb agreement.
    Unfortunately, the game is rigged. The latter have managed to claim superior virtue and moral value.

  • ditariel

    Possession…nine tenths of the laws…for the liberals now, even more.
    New ditariel defintion:
    Lib.er.al. Those who carry protest signs.
    Ac.ti.vism. Those that raise an overlooked issue to national attention.
    Lonewacko, hate lefties do you? Please keep the word leftist. I’m a left-handed “conservative”, so I tend to shatter the cute little wordplays.