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Out-of-step classes are taking a fall

November 26, 2001

The chattering classes are sullen. The president they were sure was a foolish bumbler is doing rather well. He has been patient and forceful. He glued together a coalition that includes a Labor prime minister of Britain, a Russian president and a Pakistani dictator. A number of prominent Democrats admitted — anonymously, of course — that they are relieved that Bush is president, not Gore.Here in New York, the news for the chatterers is almost as bad: Rudy Giuliani, the mayor they derided for so long as a reckless demagogue, has emerged as the American Churchill. How irritating.

The big picture is galling, too. Leading roles on the national stage haven’t been played by the thinking elite but by the semi-disdained non-chatterers who act physically in the real world: the military, the police, firefighters, agents of the CIA. And the values of the non-chatterers — heroism, patriotism, self-sacrifice — are on the rise. Crowds aren’t lining the streets and holding up “Thank you, chatterers” signs as pundits and professors drive by.

Journalist Andrew Sullivan has been sharp in detecting the anguish of the chatterers. “Not a sentence of celebration” appeared in The New York Times after the Northern Alliance broke through, and the same gloom prevails at the BBC and National Public Radio, he wrote. Why? Sullivan thinks the media chatterers of the left feel disempowered by the war. They are used to being in charge. They played a big role in ending the Vietnam War and ousting Nixon. But in this war, Sullivan wrote on his Web site: “The pundits and editorialists and cable executives have been knocked down a few pegs in the social hierarchy. They have much less power than they had before Sept. 11.” As a result, Sullivan thinks angry media elites will get even angrier and will soon step up efforts to disparage and undermine the war.

Lawrence Summers, the new president of Harvard, had something to say about the elites, too. “The post-Vietnam cleavage between the coastal elites and certain mainstream values is a matter of great concern and has some real costs,” he said. He urged the academic world to rethink its attitudes toward patriotism, which must have sent hundreds of his professors into a swoon. He said Harvard has a responsibility to support all public servants, especially “those who fight and are prepared to die.”

These sentiments are ordinary in most of America, but amazingly bold on most campuses. Consider Summers’ comment a polite warning that chatterers can expect to lose influence if they keep moving away from the mainstream at a time of crisis.

None of the elite’s wartime moves have worked. The effort to avoid U.S. retaliation for Sept. 11 by calling in the United Nations was a non-starter. The attempt to demonize the “racial profiling” of Muslims at airports fell flat, rejected by huge majorities, including a large majority of blacks. The left’s mind-boggling attempt to turn the anti-globalization crusade into a ’60s-style “campaign against war and racism” also collapsed. Even more amazing was the refusal of the feminist movement to support any show of force against the Taliban. Let’s see, who shall we support? America or fanatics who deny all rights to women and whip them on the street if they walk too noisily? Hmmm. Too close to call.

Multiculturalism, the unofficial religion of the chatterers, looks very different since Sept. 11. So does the identity politics that downgrades assimilation and common values. “Being an American means nothing to me,” an eighth-grader at a Muslim school told The Washington Post. “I’m not even proud of telling my cousins in Pakistan that I’m an American.”

This kind of comment echoes the multicultural playbook. Diversity curriculums routinely depict the United States as a sort of game board on which different “peoples” (not the American people) work out their tribal destinies, with no particular allegiance to the nation as a whole. Another bit of multicultural dogma, that each culture is correct on its own terms and no culture is superior, looks pitiful in the wake of Sept. 11. Elites alienated from their own traditions concocted this stuff in calmer times. Will mainstream America keep buying it now, or just throw it out of the schools?

In his 1995 book, “The Revolt of the Elites,” the late social critic Christopher Lasch wrote that the new bicoastal elites were seceding from the common life of America. He said the elites “have lost faith in the values, or what remains of them, of the West” and now tend to think of “Western civilization” as a system of domination and oppression. This attitude helps explain why so many in the elites seem offended by a war of self-defense and why their resistance won’t fade as the war goes on.

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