In a recent interview, former First Lady Barbara Bush said of potential presidential candidate Sarah Palin: “I sat next to her once, thought she was beautiful, and I think she’s very happy in Alaska… and I hope she stays there.”
This prompted Palin to respond, in a radio interview with conservative host Laura Ingraham, “I don’t think the majority of Americans want to put up with the blue bloods. And I say it with all due respect – because I love the Bushes – but the blue bloods want to pick and chose their winners, instead of allowing competition to pick and choose the winners.”
This prompted Meghan McCain, improbably employed as a professional writer by The Daily Beast, to declare she had never heard the term “blue bloods” before, so she had to Google it, and found herself boiling with rage by the time the page finished loading. Actually, the first hit returned by Google for the search phrase “blue bloods” is a link to watch the CBS cop drama of the same name, so maybe Meghan paused to enjoy Tom Selleck’s fine performance as a police chief (whose name, coincidentally, is “Reagan”) before she began seething. Here’s a sample of the fiery stew slopping over the edge of her literary pot:
“I actually had to Google what the meaning of ‘blue bloods’ was, although I could surmise that it was some kind of knock against education and coming from a family of some success. Yes, in essence that is what this statement meant. Families that work hard and achieve a long line of successful people are ‘blue bloods’ and thus, she implied the opinions of said people are jaded and elitist, even if that family lineage has a long history of public service and leadership within Republican Party.
[…] None of this is all together surprising except for the fact that historically it is the moderates – or people like yours truly – who get accused of starting party infighting and this statement from Sarah Palin showcases that on a very basic level the underlying cultural separation in this country is also happening within the Republican party itself.”
McCain seems to have lost track of who “started” this round of “party infighting,” but leaving that aside, this is not just a case of cultural separation. “Blue blood” is a term that resonates with a frustrated nation, weary of serving at the pleasure of an insular ruling class. The inheritance of power, through family or party machinery, is of far greater concern to middle-class Americans than the inheritance of wealth.
Meghan McCain makes a show of willfully misinterpreting “blue bloods” as a slam at educated people from successful families. It is actually a derogatory term for unearned privilege. The phrase does not conjure images of a new generation skillfully managing inherited wealth and running productive family corporations. The defining characteristic of the blue blood is their immunity from consequence. They don’t live in the same world as the rest of us. They are not crushed in the gears of a system they control from above.
For example, a group of super-wealthy liberals recently made news by openly begging for the government to raise their taxes. They spoke in support of a system that drains only a few drops of blood from their ample financial arteries, while plunging needles directly into the hearts of the middle class. Tax increases, short of outright confiscation, will not destroy an opulent lifestyle, especially for those who can afford the finest accountants and lawyers… but they’re murder on the humble lives of all the people those billionaires could hire, if they kept their money and invested it, rather than handing it over to the government. Soaring tax rates won’t make the rich live in poverty, but they will prevent the middle class from becoming rich.
The Bushes were painted as blue bloods long ago, when the Clinton campaign hammered George Bush with a phony story that he’d never seen bar code scanners in grocery checkout lines before. It wasn’t true, but voters recoiled from the perception that Bush was disconnected from their hardships in a down economy. If there had been absolutely no substance to the caricature, Bush would have overcome it easily.
What Barbara Bush said about Sarah Palin is equally out of touch. Palin’s Facebook page is brimming with substantial essays, including a letter to freshman Republicans packed with policy ideas, and serious criticism of the monetary policy known as “quantitative easing.” Treating her like a pretty little bumpkin that should stay put in the hinterlands feeds a Democrat narrative that will suppress her ideas, by ensuring the public doesn’t take her seriously enough to listen to them. Mrs. Bush is under no obligation to support her, but she isn’t doing the Tea Party-infused Republican base any favors with her sneering dismissal.
The larger point about aristocracies forming like barnacles around family fortunes, lifetime congressional seats, and ancient bureaucracies is important. We all labor under the dead hand of the past, forced to pay for commitments made before we were born. The way things are going, it will be even worse for our children. The modern Democrat Party is one huge, useless royal family, gaping in helpless amazement as the “family business” they inherited comes crashing down around them. The last thing the Republicans should do to compete in 2012 is trot out the latest tired old scion from their own political dynasties. It isn’t money, a venerable family name, or time spent in exclusive schools that make a “blue blood.” The key ingredients are arrogance and inertia.