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Uprising

Tuesday, Aug 28, 2012, 11:26 am

A Case Study in Elitism

By Bhaskar Sunkara

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More nonsense over the Reuters wire: “Untried Dutch leftists ride austerity anger to poll lead.” The article starts off with a survey of the facts. Fueled by anti-austerity resentment, “Opinion surveys show the Socialist Party could out-poll the pro-business Liberal Party on September 12, suggesting it can win between a fifth and a quarter of the seats in parliament.” It’s the same scenario we covered, albeit with a cuter title, recently on Uprising.

The Reuters article continues by noting that the Socialist Party has only had experience governing on the local level. It proceeds to describe its leader, Emile Roemer, as a rube.

The appeal of Roemer, a 50-year-old former teacher with a toothy smile and a down-to-earth manner, lies in his very ordinariness. He takes his holidays on the Dutch island of Texel, enjoys Italian food and says he's "no bookworm." A favorite movie of the man who could be the Netherlands' next prime minister is "The Silence of the Lambs."

That last detail, presumably gleaned from Roemer’s Facebook profile, is especially absurd. But it serves a deliberate political purpose, implicitly contrasting a party leader skeptical of European austerity with the more enlightened elites he’s competing against. A “bookworm,” of course, could not be against such polices. That Roemer’s more popular than other national leaders reflects the reflexive, passionate response to “tough medicine economic discipline.” Anti-austerity sentiment becomes a passion of the gut, not a legitimate intellectual position.

It’s an elitist ideology rooted in the idea that European technocrats know best and that elections should be over before the first ballot is cast, or at least kept within respectable limits. François Hollande in France may be fine, but Jean-Luc Mélenchon definitely wasn’t.

The root of the ruling class' problem with the Socialist Party isn’t its alleged lack of experience, but the fact that their democratic popularity threatens a European project that has become profoundly undemocratic.

Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @sunraysunray.

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