A theme has been growing steadily in the statist-liberal media that the recent congressional election results were the effect of Americans’ ignorance. Examples easily come to mind.
In the recent issue of The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg rationalized Barack Obama’s various political fumbles and concluded: “Another part of the problem, it must be said, is public ignorance.”
On the cover of its November-December issue, Mother Jones continued the fetishizing of Sarah Palin, photoshopping her face into the iconic poster for the B-movie classic Attack of the 50-Foot Woman and slapping on the subtitle “A Confused and Frightened Citizenry Votes Against Its Own Self-Interest.”
This line of thinking traces back to the 2005 book What's the Matter with Kansas?, which offered the thesis — compelling to self-appointed elites — that Americans are stupid peasants, easily mesmerized by right-wing lies and distortions.
It’s inconceivable to statist twits that the peasants in flyover country might have an intuitive sense that overzealous government programs are bankrupting the United States (an intuition shared by a growing number of our lenders in Berlin and Beijing). That buncombe about “confused and frightened” may be more projection than analysis.
Recently, I spent a couple of days in Chicago in the company of my 8-year-old daughter. Near the end of our trip, we went for a walk and some window shopping along Michigan Avenue. The Holiday Season vibe was just beginning. Sidewalks and stores were fairly full. But something seemed different. Outside the American Girl store (in what used to Marshall Fields’ flagship location), a chic-looking woman having a smoke studied my daughter, looked up at me, smiled shyly, and said “hübsch” (“pretty”). I smiled back and led the 8-year-old in to gawk at hundreds of Kit Kittredges.
The woman’s compliment clarified the change for me. The urban white noise — agreeable, in small doses — didn’t just include foreign tongues; it was dominated by them. German. Spanish. French. Even some dashes of what sounded like Russian. Our currency is weak, so coming here is cheap.
America’s decline doesn’t affect the peasants living in the outlying villages so much. If they are simple, they’ve always been so; their concerns are for basic security and stability. They’re skeptical about silver-tongued promises, but they’re susceptible to moral hazard — if everyone else is elbowing up to the public trough, they will too. If everyone else minds his own business, they’ll mind theirs.
The “confused and frightened” ones are people like Hertzberg and Mother Jones. They pretend to welcome a cosmopolitan world in which American shopgirls promote nostalgic dolls to middle-aged women from Dusseldorf. But really they fear it. Bien pensant strivers are terrified of America being reduced to shopkeepers peddling kitsch. They don’t realize why, but the truth behind their fear is simple. A second-rate economic power doesn’t have much need for brainy magazines and precious pundits.
Fearful people who condescend to their fellow citizens for being fearful are the ugliest Americans of all.