Op-Eds as Social Positioning: or, I’m Better than Those Hicks!

How Young Master McAuley sees his forebears

How Young Master McAuley sees his forebears

I want to loop back to James McAuley’s dreadful op-ed on the Kennedy assassination, which ran in the New York Times this weekend. As you may have guessed from my blog post, I would’ve been inclined to disagree with it anyway, given that it traffics in tired tropes about Dallas’ “atmosphere of hate” that led to Kennedy’s killing (or whatever) and utterly ignores the fact that, you know, a communist killed JFK.

An inclination to disagree turned to outright hatred, however, when I got to the portions of the piece in which Young Master McAuley, Marshall Scholar, Harvard grad, and Oxford Student, used his perch in the most important newspaper in the world to slag on his relatives. Wrote Young Master McAuley:

“Dallas,” the journalist Holland McCombs observed in Fortune in 1949, “doesn’t owe a damn thing to accident, nature or inevitability. It is what it is … because the men of Dallas damn well planned it that way.”

Those “men of Dallas” — men like my grandfather, oil men and corporate executives, self-made but self-segregated in a white-collar enclave in a decidedly blue-collar state — often loathed the federal government at least as much as, if not more than, they did the Soviet Union or Communist China. The country musician Jimmy Dale Gilmore said it best in his song about the city: “Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eye … a rich man who tends to believe in his own lies.” …

In the annals of my own family history, it was my charming grandmother, not some distant relation without a Neiman Marcus charge card, who nevertheless saw fit to found the “National Congress for Educational Excellence,” an organization that crusaded against such things as depictions of working women in Texas textbooks and the distribution of literature on homosexuality in Dallas public schools.

In a photograph taken not long after the assassination, my grandmother smiles a porcelain smile, poised and lovely in psychedelic purple Pucci, coiffure stacked high in what can only be described as a hairway to heaven. Her eyes, however, are intent, fixed on a target — liberalism, gender equality, gays.

Emphasis mine because, oh my, Young Master McAuley is doing a great deal of heavy lifting there. From a mere photograph he can read the visceral hatred in this woman’s eyes—a hatred, we can presume, that Young Master McAuley does not share. And, more importantly, that he wants his peer group to understand that he does not share.

Because, if we’re being totally honest here, Young Master McAuley is not interested in rehashing Dallas’ culture of hate or the Kennedy assassination. Not at all. What Young Master McAuley is interested in is using the op-ed page of the Grey Lady as a tool for his own social positioning. Oh, he knows how the snots at Harvard laughed at him behind his back, this rube from Dallas, surely hiding all manner of reactionary tendencies. The prats at Oxford are no better. But Young Master McAuley so wants to be accepted. He must prove to them that he is different. He’s not like those hateful monsters in Texas. He’s enlightened! His eyes are intent on equality! Equality for the genders, equal rights for gays, the advance of liberalism!

“I am good! Love me!” Young Master McAuley’s op-ed plaintively cries. “Look at how much I hate the people who raised me, the people whose position in life enabled me to attend Harvard and Oxford and turn my back on them.”

This is, of course, nothing new. As Christopher Caldwell noted a decade ago in the Weekly Standard, even otherwise thoughtful liberals who hail originally from flyover country are driven kind of nutty by their ignorant kin when it comes to politics. You should really read the whole thing—it’s extremely brief, and the bile so-called liberals direct at their families is something to behold—but here are Caldwell’s concluding paragraphs:

At some point, Democrats became the party of small-town people who think they’re too big for their small towns. It is hard to say how it happened: Perhaps it is that Republicans’ primary appeal is to something small-towners take for granted (tradition), while Democrats’ is to something that small-towners are condemned for lacking (diversity). Both appeals can be effective, but it is only the latter that incites people to repudiate the culture in which they grew up. Perhaps it is that at universities–through which pass all small-town people aiming to climb to a higher social class–Democratic party affiliation is the sine qua non of being taken for a serious, non-hayseed human being.

For these people, liberalism is not a belief at all. No, it’s something more important: a badge of certain social aspirations. That is why the laments of the small-town leftists get voiced with such intemperance and desperation. As if those who voice them are fighting off the nagging thought: If the Republicans aren’t particularly evil, then maybe I’m not particularly special.

“A badge of certain social aspirations,” yes, but something else too. Liberalism and affiliation with the Democratic Party, for these people, is less a series of policy ideas than an almost-religious belief system. Distancing oneself from heretics thus takes on special importance. And how better to show your fellow believers that you are Good than to use the most important news outlet in the entire world to run down your relatives who believed Bad things?

Photo Credit: mhogan35 via Compfight cc