It used to be that right-wing Republicans, those of sharp eye and fearful natures, saw pinkos lurking behind every bush. No more. Now they see elites.
Like the commies of yesterday, the elites have infilitrated the core of American life. When Rep. David Stockman (R-Mich.), a member of the Republican platform committee wrote an article for The Washington Post titled "Our Grand New Platform," he couldn't get his mind off these rotters.
He warned of the "power of the governing and communications elites." He decried "the elites of bench, bar and social sensibility." We have to match "political activism and advantage among society's elites at the expense of diminished choice for the citizen of ordinary rank." And, for sure, hiding deepest behind the bush are those crafty "Washington elites."
Stockman, with an eye on matters of cosmic import, believes the elites have brought us to the "brink of economic collapse and social disarray." But even in the smaller issues of public policy, other Republicans see trouble. In the party platform denouncement of the 55 mph speed limit, it is stated that "Republicans reject the elitist idea that Americans must be forced out of their cars."
After Ronald Reagan leads a moment of silent prayer for the world's deprived -- Cambodians, Cubans, Haitians and carless Republicans -- a few bothersome facts must be considered. The median family income of the Republican delegates in Detroit, according to a CBS poll, is $47,000. The 47-member executive advisory committee of Ronald Reagan is a group of the well-heeled and well-connected. They are people of privilege who move in the rarified circles of American life -- private clubs, boardrooms and vacation homes. They have access to politicians. They knew the art of the quiet deal.
In their lurch to the right, Republicans are entitled to their politics of resentment. But for a group of citizens that has an identifiably large share of America's blessings -- in material goods, benefits and power -- its anti-elitism is a phony pose. With Reagan now charging forward to topple what Stockman calls "the liberal superstate," the brazenness of this anti-elite Republicanism is in its identification with "the citizen of ordinary rank."
It's gagging. We are meant to believe that Justin Dart, Alfred Bloomingdale, Donald Runsfeld, Joseph Coors -- all Reagan advisers and all men of corporate power -- are forsaking the noontime pleasures of their boardroom dining rooms to eat out of lunchboxes with T-shirted construction workers out on the street. Joe Sixpack is asked to be comforted by the image of fatcat Republicans going to their exclusive clubs to fret about "the plight of the common man."
Reagan himself personifies this new style of right-wing populism. He likes to tell of when he was among the rarified himself, in his days as an FDR liberal. But later, as a barker for General Electric, he toured the factories. He listened to the workers and learned that they were unhappy. The elites were to blame.
Reagan's message now is that elitism has ruled too long with disastrous results. This is an appealing argument except that Reagan and his $47,000-a-year boosters are the one group best positioned to survive the coming time of disaster.
In trying to rouse the anger of the little man, and thereby create a stormfront that promises to rout all Elite Oppressors, the anti-elites of the right are little more than oportunists. The Republican Party platform is a listing of deprivations: no prayers in the school, no muscle in the Pentagon, no decency in courts. What emerges from this winning is a picture of a long-suffering, put-upon minority. Joined with other hurting minorities, a new community of the deprived takes shape.
The anti-elitism of 1980 was once only a cry from the fringes. George Wallace fumed against pseudo-intellectuals and Spiro Agnew denounced the effete media. It is different and more menacing today because the immense wealth and power of mainline Republicanism is now committed to fresh-from-the-fringes Reagan.
Some comfort can be found in all this. The workers, the minorities and the beleaguered middle-class and poor who are the objects of concern for the anti-elitists of the right have until Nov. 4 to figure out who the elitists really are.